Union files lawsuit against Portland grain terminal

Labor strife has been rampant in recent months

By

Published:

 

PORTLAND — There is another disagreement between Pacific Northwest grain terminals and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Local 40 contends that Columbia Grain, which is based at the Port of Portland, wrongfully stopped employing union marine clerks and declined to enter arbitration. The suit asks a U.S. District Court judge to order the company into arbitration with the union.

"There's no other option to try and get to the bottom of this," Local 40 attorney Hank Kaplan said Wednesday.

More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports move through grain terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound, and the past seven months have been full of labor strife.

In late December, Columbia Grain and two other terminal owners implemented management-friendly work rules after declaring contract talks to be at an impasse.

One of those owners, United Grain, which owns a terminal in Vancouver, later locked longshoremen out of their jobs after alleging that a union leader sabotaged company equipment

Those disputes, however, did not involve the clerks with Local 40, who have an existing contract.

Kaplan said he believes the sudden loss of work must be connected to the problems between Columbia Grain and other ILWU locals."I don't think the company will pretend that one has nothing to do with the other," Kaplan said. "But as a legal matter, one has nothing to do with the other, and we expect companies to honor their contracts."

Columbia Grain officials did not return phone messages seeking comment.According to the lawsuit, Local 40 filed a grievance challenging the lost work on Jan. 21. A few weeks later, the lawsuit states, a Columbia Grain attorney told the local that it would not take part in the grievance-and-arbitration process.