Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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Longshore union touts ‘superior’ grain pact

Contract approval ended two-year dispute

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

The question of who got the upper hand — labor or management — in a recent contract agreement that ended two years of strife between union dockworkers and grain export terminal operators may never be fully answered.

However, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Monday the contract it signed with the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association — which includes United Grain Corp. at the Port of Vancouver — is “significantly different from, and superior to” the more employer-friendly accord it signed in early 2012 with Export Grain Terminal in Longview.

Unlike the situation in Longview, union workers who are dispatched to United Grain and other facilities won’t be “subject to management’s ‘pre-approved’ list,” according to a brief, paraphrased list of terms issued to The Columbian by the Longshore union.

“The employers pushed for lists but didn’t get them,” Jennifer Sargent, spokeswoman for the Longshore union, said in an email. Wages are higher than what terms allow in Longview, the union said, and the “grievance machinery” — procedures used to settle workplace and contract issues — “is substantially improved over the contract” with Export Grain Terminal.

During its conflict with the Longshore union, the Grain Handlers Association said it wanted new contract terms to boost its competitiveness. The association frequently cited the Export Grain Terminal contract as an example of how to achieve that goal.

Asked to respond to the Longshore union’s assessment of its agreement with the Grain Handlers Association, Pat McCormick, spokesman for the group, said the companies “are pleased that the long dispute is resolved and satisfied that the terms of the agreement allow our terminal operations to remain competitive.”

The contract details issued by the Longshore union, while not comprehensive, nonetheless offer a glimpse of the arrangement that was ratified in late August by 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 Longshore union and the Grain Handlers Association are expected to sign the agreement sometime this week. It replaces a contract that expired in 2012. The Longshore union said its agreement with the Grain Handlers Association is “superior to the terms and conditions” offered by the association in its final contract proposal in November 2012.

The newly ratified contract, in effect until May 31, 2018, ensures that U.S. grain exports will proceed without disruption as harvest approaches.

Approval of new terms ends two years of negotiations, including lengthy lockouts at United Grain and Columbia Grain, that engulfed everyone from local police, and state and federal agriculture officials to Washington’s governor.

Longshore workers have returned to their jobs at the locked-out facilities, and all picketing has ceased. Moreover, the parties 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, Columbia 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.

The Longshore union’s agreement with the Grain Handlers Association is “not significantly different” from the interim accord it reached with Temco in February 2013, according to Sargent. And the “manning and wages are improved” in the new agreement as compared with the interim arrangement with Temco.

Sargent said the union will meet with Temco within the next week to reconcile terms of the interim agreement with the newly ratified accord with the Grain Handlers Association.

Columbian Port & Economy Reporter