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Another victory due to struggle

ILWU recognized at EGT grain terminal

By Cheryl LaBash
Published Feb 11, 2012 10:13 AM

On Feb. 1, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 was officially recognized as the representative of workers at the state-of-the-art EGT grain terminal in Longview, Wash. According to an ILWU Coast Longshore Division news release, “EGT and ILWU representatives then signed a recognition agreement and committed to negotiate the details of a collective bargaining agreement for all landside and shipside operations in the next several days.” Workers hired by EGT through the Local 21-Pacific Maritime Association hiring hall voted in a card-check process, affirming the ILWU while already at work in the terminal.

A joint ILWU-EGT press statement announced the first test ship will dock at the terminal on Feb. 7. ILWU members will work it. This ship is key to readying the terminal for full production which had been scheduled for 2011 harvest. The ship reportedly has been anchored four hours away from Longview for weeks, held back by the threat of a massive protest. ILWU rank-and-file members, the Occupy movement and workers across the country vowed to block the massive carrier if there was any attempt to load the ship without ILWU workers.

Even the announcement that armed Coast Guard vessels would escort the ship failed to dampen the mobilization. Resolutions from the San Francisco Labor Council and North Carolina’s United Electrical Local 150 and picket lines in New York City and other places condemned the threatened military intervention. Vivid memories of the militant demonstrations in Seattle at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting no doubt helped spur the Washington governor to find a solution to the standoff.

In November 2010, some 14 months ago, international grain consortium EGT told the union it had “no need” of its services. The company prepared to open the facility, declaring war on the ILWU. This anti-labor challenge to the right of port workers to be represented by the ILWU — won in the 1934 West Coast longshore workers strike that led to the San Francisco general strike — launched a mighty struggle.

Three months after EGT calculated it could shove the ILWU aside, the workers of Wisconsin occupied the State Capitol on Feb. 14, 2011. In September, Occupy Wall Street encampments erupted in cities and towns, including all the port cities on the West Coast. The Occupy movement mobilized to support Local 21 and the ILWU in conjunction with rank-and-file ILWU members.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire brokered the Jan. 27 agreement among EGT, the Port of Longview and the ILWU, establishing the groundwork that resulted in recognition of the ILWU. It specifies that the ILWU issue a statement informing “the public, including the Occupy movement … urging them to cease and desist from any actions … directed against EGT.”

During a number of pickets in Longview over the last six months, various state and local police agencies made at least 200 arrests. On Feb. 1, four women arrested on Sept. 21 for blocking a train loaded with grain bound for the EGT terminal were found not guilty. Two others were acquitted earlier, and 12 misdemeanor charges were dropped. The ILWU has called for all charges to be dropped.

Additional issues remain to be resolved in contract negotiations. More than $300,000 in fines against the union have not yet been lifted.

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