The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association took a break from their negotiation of a new Pacific Coast Longshore and Clerk's Agreement on Tuesday in order for ILWU officers and negotiating committee members to focus on grain negotiations in the Pacific Northwest where ILWU members have been locked out of work for a year.
Robert McEllrath, president of the ILWU, wrote in a letter to longshore locals that ILWU members have been locked out of the Mitsui-United Grain Corp. elevator since February 2013 and the Marubeni-Columbia Grain elevator since May 2013. The union is also negotiating with Louis Dreyfus Commodities, where workers are still working at its terminals terminal in Seattle and Portland.
The companies are seeking a contract with terms similar to those the ILWU signed with the new Export Grain Terminal that opened in Longview, Wash., in 2012.
The PMA and ILWU are negotiating a new contract covering nearly 20,000 longshore workers at 29 West
Coast ports. The negotiations involving the elevator workers involve a much small number of workers, but McEllrath said it is no less important.
"The situation in the Pacific Northwest is unprecedented in the history of the ILWU, which has represented longhsore workers in Northwest grain elevators since the 1930s," he wrote in the letter. "I ask for your patience and support as we direct our efforts for the next several days to resolve the matter."
The long-running labor dispute took another turn yesterday, with unions representing tugboat captains and crew challenging the ability of the tug and barge companies continuing to serve the elevators.
In a press release, the presidents of the Inland Boatman's Union, an ILWU affiliate, and the Masters, Mates and Pilots, an affiliate of the International Longshoremen's Association, complained that a company serving the terminals does not have experience on the Columbia and Willamette rivers.