No progress in dispute as port lockout enters its sixth day

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 

Both sides indicated things were quiet Sunday night as the United Grain lockout continues into its sixth day Monday morning.

The contract dispute involves working conditions between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus Commodities. However, United Grain is the only export terminal that has locked out its workers.

The company last Wednesday locked out 44 dockworkers after it alleged a union official sabotaged the company's equipment. The company says it fired the person. The union denies any wrongdoing.

Vancouver police continue to investigate the matter.

"We have not brought in any replacement workers," Pat McCormick said Sunday. "We are working with United Grain personnel only." McCormick is the spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.

Asked if there is any indication the talks will resume, McCormick said, "I think we're (the three companies) meeting midweek to discuss the request from the union for a meeting."

McCormick said work is happening at United Grain at the Port of Vancouver.

"Operations have resumed to a certain normality," he said. "We completed loading last night, and the ship departed last night without incident."

Jennifer Sargent, spokeswoman for the longshore union, said union workers were feeling support.

"The folks down at the picket line are getting a lot of support from the community and people seem to really understand that the local workers are up against huge foreign corporations," she said in a statement Sunday. "The community appreciates the longshore workers' generosity over the years, and we're all hoping the foreign corporations will get back to the bargaining table and reach an agreement and get folks back to work."

McCormick stressed the contract dispute is not over wages and benefits. It is about workplace rules, he said.

McCormick said the last contract offer had hourly wages of $34 to $36 an hour, with $30 in benefits on top of the hourly wage.

In a related matter, on Friday, Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor plans to speak with the grain terminal operators. Smith could not be reached Sunday night about the governor's plans.

The Pacific Northwest has nine grain shipping terminals, with two in Puget Sound and seven along the Columbia River. At issue is a dispute over a new labor contract between the ILWU and three companies — United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus Commodities — that operate a total of four grain-export terminals in Vancouver, Portland and Seattle.

More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports, including nearly half the nation's wheat exports, move through Columbia River and Puget Sound grain terminals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On average, about 3.2 million metric tons of grain moves through the Port of Vancouver annually. And about 16 percent of U.S. wheat exports comes through the port.

Editor's note: The story was revised to note that the lockout is in effect only at United Grain, and to identify Jennifer Sargent as a union spokeswoman. Aaron Corvin contributed to this story.