Over the past two days, longshoremen in the Pacific Northwest have blocked a train carrying cargo, clashed with police, attacked a shipping facility and held a wildcat strike that shut down ports in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett in western Washington state on Thursday.
They’re the latest, and most aggressive, actions by the members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which all summer has been protesting against a $200-million grain-shipping facility that Bunge North America subsidiary EGT is opening at the Port of Longview in southern Washington state.
It’s the first major grain export terminal built in the U.S. in the last two decades, the Los Angeles Times reports, and the ILWU has insisted it has the right to work at the facility. However, negotiations between the union and EGT broke down in April over what union officials said was EGT’s demand to have longshoremen work 12-hour shifts without any overtime pay, among other issues. EGT hired a contractor, General Construction of Federal Way, Wash., which is employing members of another labor union to work at the Port of Longview.
According to the L.A. Times:
The National Labor Relations Board intervened in late August, seeking a court order to end "violent and aggressive" labor actions, which it said included destroying EGT property and harassing and threatening employees of EGT and General Construction.
In one case, the labor board alleged, a protester dropped a trash bag full of manure from an airplane near an EGT building.
On Wednesday morning, dock workers in Vancouver, Wash., delayed a train for a few hours that was carrying thousands of tons of corn, EGT’s first grain shipment that will head to market, the Seattle Daily News reports.
“This is the latest in a very long line of actions that longshoremen are taking to stand up to a foreign company that’s trying to get a foothold in Washington and undermine the grain industry,” ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said during the morning protest in Vancouver, according to the Seattle Daily News.
When the train reached the Port of Longview, about 400 longshoremen blocked it from entering the EGT grain terminal for four hours, throwing rocks and spraying pepper spray at police. Police officers in riot gear convinced the group to move aside by evening, though 19 protestors were arrested for clashing with police or sitting down on the tracks when the train started up again.
In the predawn hours of Thursday morning, hundreds more longshoremen attacked the grain train at the port, cutting break lines, dumping grain and detaining six security guards inside a guard shack during the attack.
In addition, union members did not show up for work on Thursday at the Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma and Port of Everett, forcing those ports to shut down cargo operations for the day.
Craig Merrilees, a union spokesman at ILWU headquarters in San Francisco, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the national organization had not called for a strike. “We’re trying to sort out what’s happening,” he said. “There’s been no formal action by the union. We’re trying to determine how many members on their own are participating in what appears to be a wildcat action.”