Longshore workers ask Port of Vancouver to take a stand

Commissioners have been neutral during United Grain lockout

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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photoA lockout of union dockworkers at the Port of Vancouver begins early on Feb. 27, 2013, after months of contentious negotiations.

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Local members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, locked out of United Grain Corp. at the Port of Vancouver for nearly five months, took their protest to port commissioners Tuesday. A union leader urged the port to stop being neutral in the dispute and to explain its recent actions, including having workers "that they have known for 20 years" arrested "for standing quietly outside a gate holding a picket sign."

"It's time to start supporting American workers" over a foreign corporation's profits, said Cager Clabaugh, president of ILWU Local 4. "It's time to stand up for the men and women of this community who pay their taxes to this port in hopes that their families and neighbors will benefit from their investment."

Clabaugh was among many ILWU members who attended the commissioners' regular public hearing Tuesday. Several other Longshore workers spoke. Others clapped in support of their fellow union members' remarks. Commissioner Brian Wolfe said he welcomed the ILWU's testimony, saying "we'll continue to work with you, Cager."

The ILWU centered some of its comments on the port's decision on June 28 to ask Vancouver police to cite four ILWU members for trespassing in a secure marine terminal area on the west side of United Grain Corp.'s facility.

The port says the union workers needed to have a work-related purpose to be in the area, which is governed by U.S. Coast Guard and port policies. Instead, the port says, the workers were picketing, which was not an appropriate purpose.

Kathy Clark, the wife of Brad Clark, a former local ILWU president who was arrested for trespassing in the disputed area, told commissioners Tuesday that her husband is barred by law from making his own statement due to the threat of being re-arrested.

So she read from a statement from him intended, in part, to dispel misconceptions about what happened on June 28. "First, I was granted access to the port with my TWIC" — a security card — Clark said, reading from her husband's statement. "Second, I was employed by my employer that day and was waiting for my job to start. Lastly, I am one of over 200 members who have a labor dispute with one of your tenants. A tenant that the port allowed to use that gate on that day."

The port has said it followed legal precedent in allowing a general contractor and subcontractors for United Grain to use a temporary gate and the port's main gate for a limited time.

Theresa Wagner, the port's communications chief, said Tuesday the port has "made every effort to be as evenhanded and fair as possible, and we'll continue to do so."

Clabaugh told commissioners the union has watched for five months as United Grain brings in "vanload after vanload" of union-breaking, out-of-state security and replacement workers to do the work "of our locked-out membership."

It's the first time in his career as a Longshoreman, Clabaugh said, that at the "Port of Possibility," we are considered a "low work opportunity port." That means "the port that my family and neighbors helped build can't supply our 200 members with three days of work a week."

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.