Local View: United Grain: No bullying, violence on our part



I was appalled to read claims by Port of Vancouver CEO Todd Coleman in the Sept. 29 Columbian that United Grain Corporation had threatened violence against and bullied International Longshore and Warehouse Union members.

As the UGC executive responsible for reaching a new agreement with ILWU (in coordination with Columbia Grain Inc. and Louis Dreyfus Commodities), I can verify that there have been no threats or bullying by United Grain or its employees.

The three companies seeking a new contract with ILWU have made clear since bargaining began that what we seek is a fair agreement with provisions paralleling those ILWU approved in its contract with Export Grain Terminal in Longview — provisions similar to terms in ILWU’s agreement with Kalama Export Company, or KEX.

When bargaining reached an impasse last December, the three companies engaged in coordinated bargaining implemented their last, best and final offer. Terms of that offer increased wages and benefits for ILWU workers and allowed the companies greater assurance they could operate consistently and efficiently. The implemented offer largely mirrors terms ILWU members accepted, approved and work with every day in Longview and Kalama.

Such terms are essential if our three companies are to compete on a level playing field with EGT and KEX. Their more favorable contract terms give EGT and KEX significant cost and operational advantages.

The port has good reason to restore its ability to compete fairly with other Columbia River ports. As The Daily News in Longview noted (Aug. 13, 2013): “Last year, the port (of Longview) collected $14.8 million in revenue from January through June on the way to $33.8 million for 2012, the fifth consecutive record revenue year. For the first time in history, the Port of Longview surpassed the Port of Vancouver in revenue, largely because of EGT.”

This week I sent Mr. Coleman a letter asking for his disavowal of the false charges he made in his Columbian commentary. UGC has repeatedly complained about the port’s unwillingness to protect neutral parties (vendors, river pilots, grain inspectors, etc.) from intimidation, racial taunts, vandalism, physical attacks — even death threats.

In his commentary, Mr. Coleman claims the port provides “safe access of all parties into and out of the port.” In fact, UGC personnel are confined to our leasehold, restricted from other areas of the port, while the port allows ILWU members free access to port facilities.

It’s not benevolent generosity on the port’s part to provide security to United Grain facilities. It’s their contractual obligation, as well as their legal duty under the Homeland Security Act.

In 2012, UGC paid the port approximately $3.9 million. We invested more than $75 million in the past two years to upgrade grain storage facilities, giving Vancouver the largest grain storage capacity of any port on the West Coast.

In our more than 40-year partnership with the port, UGC has helped build Vancouver’s international reputation as a major grain export terminal. That makes Mr. Coleman’s unfounded public scolding all the more outrageous.

He called for all parties to return to bargaining, knowing that the companies and ILWU already were scheduled to meet Oct. 3, the first such meeting since March 22, when ILWU declared it wouldn’t attend the next day’s planned bargaining session with the federal mediator.

We respect and support ILWU workers’ rights to protest. But UGC has every right to insist such protests respect the neutrality of those not party to the dispute. The port’s inadequate security is evident every day as grain inspectors are escorted into UGC by Vancouver police.

Our conversation with ILWU has restarted. We hope for progress. Success will require a clear focus on fairness and repudiation of threats and intimidation.

Gary Schuld is the UGC executive in charge of the company’s negotiations with ILWU. He is UGC’s former CEO.