Several hundred people rallied Friday morning at Esther Short Park to support the 44 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union who are locked out from work at the United Grain export terminal at the Port of Vancouver.
The union members have been locked out from working at the terminal since Feb. 27. The lockout came after months of contract negotiations.
The cause of the lockout is in dispute. United Grain says it barred the workers after discovering a union worker tampered with equipment. The union says that’s a fabrication invented by management as an excuse to instigate the lockout.
The root of the labor dispute is over whether work rules governing union employees should be modified.
The Friday rally brought the union’s message to the heart of downtown, with union officials telling the crowd the fight will go on until a fair contract is reached.
“We don’t care how long. We’re going to win this struggle,” said Cager Clabaugh, president of ILWU Local 4.
Speakers from unions across the state and West Coast told local union members they stood together in the fight. After about 20 minutes, Robert McEllrath, the ILWU’s international president, held up a document he referred to as a “fair contract.” He then asked the crowd to help him deliver it to United Grain officials just three blocks away.
“In the newspaper, they say, ‘Oh, but we don’t have the contract,’ ” McEllrath said. “Well, let me tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to march up the street to UGC’s office, and I’m going to hand them the … contract.”
The crowd made its way to the Riverview Tower, and overflowed onto Washington Street between Evergreen Boulevard and West Ninth Street as police from Vancouver and Portland diverted traffic.
When McEllrath found the front doors locked, the crowd began chanting, “Let them in!” and “Bargain!”
McEllrath said it appeared the company didn’t want to open its doors due to the large crowd, so suggested they all “hang out” for a bit.
At around 11:20 a.m. a Vancouver police officer found a solution to the stalemate by offering to take the contract inside through a side door. McEllrath announced the contract had been delivered and the crowd dispersed.
The contract, according to McEllrath, is a draft of the agreement between the union and Temco LLC — a U.S.-based operator of grain export facilities in Portland, Tacoma and Kalama.
Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association — a group of grain shippers that includes United Grain — said the company has been requesting that contract, and that it will be reviewed.
“If that is it … then that is helpful,” McCormick said. “It will give us something to review.”
McCormick said he still expects the union to respond to a legal request sent by the company regarding the contract discussion. He also added that he “wasn’t sure what the union was thinking” by marching upon United Grain’s offices.
“We’re perfectly capable and able to get things by email,” McCormick said. “They don’t need an escort.”