Pacific NW Port Workers Reject Contract Offcer


PORTLAND, Ore. (Dow Jones) — Union members at four ports in the Pacific Northwest voted overwhelmingly on Monday to reject a contract offer from the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, paving the way for a potential lockout.


The labor dispute affects six grain terminals on the Willamette and Columbia rivers and Puget Sound in Washington and Oregon.


A statement issued in response to the vote by the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association expressed disappointment that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union “has chosen to reject these companies' last, best and final offer, which is a fair and reasonable offer.” It said employers “are reviewing their options” but makes no mention of a lockout. “Regardless of the outcome, they remain committed to operating,” the association said.


More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports and nearly half of U.S. wheat exports move through the Columbia River and Puget Sound grain terminals, people in the industry say. Most of the cargo arrives by rail, some by river barge and a small percentage by truck.


The Northwest's proximity to Asian markets drives grain exports from the region, which has increased its activity as falling water levels this year on the Mississippi River reduced tonnage. Union negotiators complained grain terminals are profiting from the uptick in demand from grain exporters, yet are demanding “concessionary” terms from labor that are unacceptable.


The grain handlers said money isn't the sticking point. The association said under its offer the hourly wage for registered union members will increase to a range of $34 to $36 with an additional $30 an hour for benefits on top of wages.


Workplace rules are where the two sides are stuck, the grain handlers said. The terminal operators said in their statement responding to the union's rejection of their latest contract terms that they requested greater “flexibility” to run shifts of as many as 12 hours at a time.


Employers added they want to be able to use fewer workers to load ships and have the option of using nonunion personnel perform some tasks when, employers say, “employees are unavailable or refuse to work.”


Union employees considered those requests extreme. “The Grain exporters have not bargained in good faith, instead rejecting every effort by the Union to reach a compromised settlement,” said Leal Sundet, an ILWU leader, on Monday. “In essence, their 'last and final' offer was not fundamentally different than that originally presented in September.”


Almost 94{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05} of the ILWU members voted to reject the Grain Handlers Association's latest proposal. The union asked the association to return to the negotiating table. The ILWU represents 50,000 workers on the West Coast as well as Alaska and Hawaii, but only about 3,000 workers were eligible to vote on this contract.


The employees have been working without a contract since Sept. 29, when the last agreement expired. Longshoremen have been dueling with grain handlers since the summer of 2011, when shipperEGT Development LLC of Portland, Ore., opened a grain terminal in Longview, Wash. A dispute over union jurisdiction at the Port of Longview led to weeks of demonstrations. ILWU and EGT Development did reach an agreement.




Source:  Dow Jones

Posted by Haylie Shipp



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