United Grain, a subsidiary of Mitsui & Co. Ltd., a Japanese-based multinational conglomerate, is among three grain-handling companies that imposed contract terms opposed by the ILWU. An agreement with four companies covered by the Pacific Northwest Handler’s Agreement expired Sept. 29. Only TEMCO, LLC., a joint venture of Cargill and CHS Inc., which operates three grain terminals in the region, has signed an agreement with the union.
“Mitsui-United Grain has fabricated a story as an excuse to do what they’ve wanted to do all along, which is lock workers out instead of reach a fair agreement with them,” Leal Sundet, ILWU co-negotiating chairman, said in a Feb. 27 statement. “For the past two months Mitsui’s hired security guards have been shadowing and harassing our members every day at the United Grain elevator. This shows they’ve been itching to lock us all out.”
“We received a report from a former FBI forensic investigator we hired that a member of the union bargaining committee” was responsible for sabotaging equipment in December, United Grain spokesman Pat McCormick told the Militant March 4. Since the union refused to collaborate with the investigation, he said, “we determined it was necessary to lock out the union members.”
Although the lockout has “no direct relationship” to the contract negotiations, United Grain would bring back the workers, McCormick said, if the union agrees to the same terms as two other companies not covered under the Pacific Northwest Handler’s Agreement—Export Grain Terminal (EGT) in Longview and Kalama Export Co. in Kalama.
“There is a spirit of solidarity on the picket line,” ILWU spokesperson Jennifer Sargent said in a March 1 phone interview. According to workers on the picket line, members of ILWU Local 21 in Longview and Local 8 in Portland, Ore., have joined them in front of the United Grain terminal.
Members of Local 21 waged a successful eight-month battle against EGT that ended in January last year after the company was forced to back down from its refusal to hire ILWU labor.
In a related development, the union’s lawsuit charging civil rights violations by Longview city cops and the Cowlitz County Sheriffs department during the EGT fight was thrown out Feb. 22 by a federal district judge.Related articles: