Union workers who handle cargo at grain export terminals in Vancouver and other Northwest ports have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with several multinational grain companies, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Tuesday. Approval of the labor accord ends two years of negotiations and an 18-month lockout at United Grain Corp. at the Port of Vancouver that consumed everyone from local police, and state and federal agriculture officials to Washington’s governor.
The vote included members of the Longshore union’s Local 4 in Vancouver, Local 8 in Portland, Local 21 in Longview, Local 19 in Seattle, and Local 23 in Tacoma. The tally was 88.4 percent in favor, with 1,475 in favor and 193 opposed to the agreement with United Grain, Louis Dreyfus Commodities in Portland and Seattle, and Columbia Grain Inc. in Portland.
The contract will be in effect until May 31, 2018. It ensures that U.S. grain exports will proceed without disruption as harvest approaches. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the agreement is “welcome news for the workers and the three grain facilities” and that it’s also “great news for Washington’s internationally acclaimed grain industry.”
Inslee added, “I am grateful that the lockout’s disruption to the marketplace was kept to a minimum and that for most of those 18 months state grain inspections continued.”
Negotiations for the new agreement began in August of 2012, involved 70 separate sessions, and included lockouts at United Grain and Portland’s Columbia Grain. Terms of the agreement include work rule changes and wage increases over the life of the agreement, but details of those contract changes were not disclosed.
In a statement emailed to The Columbian on Tuesday, Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, said: “Reaching an agreement was obviously not easy, but hard work from both management and union negotiators produced a fair agreement providing well-paid employment to our Longshore workers and allowing terminal operators to remain competitive.”
Jennifer Sargent, spokeswoman for the Longshore union, said in an email to The Columbian that “both sides compromised, and the agreement reflects that.”
Longshore workers will return to their jobs at the locked-out facilities Wednesday, Aug. 27. All picketing has ceased, and the parties have agreed to drop all pending claims before the National Labor Relations Board and other legal actions associated with the dispute.
More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports move through nine grain terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound. The contract dispute initially involved six of those terminals that operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the Longshore union at United Grain, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, and Temco, which has grain elevators in Portland and Tacoma.
Temco broke away from the alliance in early December 2012 and negotiated separately with the union.
United Grain locked out Longshore workers in February 2013. About two months later, Columbia Grain locked out union dockworkers at its facility in Portland.
The conflict wasn’t about wages and benefits. Instead, it was about workplace rules and hiring policies. It was a battle over which side — grain terminal operators or union dockworkers — would get the upper hand over control of labor issues on the region’s waterfronts.
Terminal operators had argued for a new contract that mirrors employer-friendly terms the Longshore union signed in February 2012 with Export Grain Terminal in Longview. The union contended the demands by United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus Commodities would hurt workers.
Early contract offers from the grain handlers would have taken away some perks and grievance procedures. Other concessions included letting employers go to court to end work stoppages immediately and allowing supervisors to perform work during health-and-safety disputes.
Sargent, the Longshore spokeswoman, said the new contract “is significantly different” from the Export Grain Terminal contract in Longview. “The EGT contract was a first contract, and this one is reflective of its maturity,” she said. She added, “By terms of the EGT contract, the wage increases in this contract are automatically applied there.”