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News / Northwest

Union protesters clash with police in Longview

The Columbian
Published: September 7, 2011, 5:00pm
5 Photos
A Cowlitz County Sheriff grabs a union worker by the throat as police move in on several hundred union workers blocking a grain train in Longview on Wednesday
A Cowlitz County Sheriff grabs a union worker by the throat as police move in on several hundred union workers blocking a grain train in Longview on Wednesday Photo Gallery

LONGVIEW — A train carrying a shipment of grain made its first delivery to a new terminal in Longview on Wednesday night, surviving a day of union protests that included two blockades and a tense clash with police.

Authorities arrested about a dozen people who had lingered on the tracks, detaining them in zipties as the train slowly moved along nearby. Most of the several hundred ILWU protesters had already departed after leaders vowed to come back another day.

The shipment is the first to arrive at the new grain terminal operated by EGT. The union believes it has the right to work at the facility, but the company has hired a contractor that is staffing a workforce of other union laborers.

EGT chief executive Larry Clarke said it was unfortunate that law enforcement needed to make arrests.

“The dangerous actions here by the ILWU not only hurt the surrounding community, but also have a harmful impact along the supply chain for U.S. farmers and their families seeking new opportunities in export markets worldwide,” Clarke said.

ILWU members first blocked a Longview-bound train earlier this summer, halting all shipments to the site. The latest attempted delivery came after a federal judge issued a restraining order against the union. Protesters first blocked the train in Vancouver early Wednesday morning before regrouping to halt it again in Longview.

At one point, police tried to arrest a small number of the union activists on railroad tracks in Longview, but the crowd surged and kept the officers at bay. The police retreated about 150 feet.

A top union official later called off the protest that twice blocked the shipment to the Port of Longview. International Longshore and Warehouse Union International President Robert McEllrath told hundreds of supporters Wednesday evening that they were not backing down.

“We’ll be back,” he shouted at law enforcement officials. He told supporters they would return to block another shipment with an even greater mobilization.

About two dozen officers gathered nearby during the stalemate, with some wearing helmets and masks. Others videotaped the protesters, several of whom were hit with pepper spray during the police action, said Dan Coffman, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21.

The blockade appeared to defy the federal restraining order issued last week that prohibits the union from blocking entrance to the facility in Longview. A judge issued the order after federal officials alleged the protesters engaged in death threats and assaults.

Clarke called the blockade a blatant disregard for the law as spelled out by the judge.

Union officials said they were simply fighting for their jobs.

“The issue is that EGT is failing to honor its lease agreement to hire union longshore workers,” spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said.


Statement from Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office

“This was not like the peaceful protests we’ve seen in the past. The protesters today were loud, aggressive and assaulted my officers.” Said Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson.

“We’ve danced this dance before. When our officers went in to make peaceful, lawful trespass arrests, they were rushed by a mob of hundreds of protesters who were resistive and throwing things at the officers” Nelson said.

“I have been meeting with local union leadership and business representatives for two months now. I was always assured that things would not get violent towards our police officers. I guess the protesters from out of town didn’t get that message.” Nelson said.

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“I’m very concerned about our local folks, and have been since this thing started. There are people outside of our community that are pulling the strings here, and our neighbors are the ones getting hurt.”

“The courts have tried to step in and give direction to these parties. Disregarding the law is not something any of us in this community can tolerate.”

“The goal of law enforcement has not, and is not to move a train. We’re cops, not engineers or conductors. Our goal is to enforce the law and arrest those who break the law; which in this case is trespass.”

“Approximately 40 officers from the Sheriff’s Office, Longview Police, Kelso Police, Washington State Patrol responded to a gathering of nearly 400 people at the rail entrance to Port of Longview Property. Where they were blocking railroad tracks.”

“Deputies were attempting to address the group through public address announcements, telling the protesters that they were trespassing and had to leave. The announcements were shouted down by the protesting crowd. Three trespassers were arrested at that time before it became too dangerous for officer and they withdrew.”

Later in the evening law enforcement made an additional 16 arrests for trespass.

At this time, deputies are investigating vandalism that occurred to the train after it was stopped by the protesters.