The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Monday grain companies operating terminals along Columbia River and Puget Sound have given local workers a final contract offer that "demands deep concessions from workers, even though the companies have been successful under the current agreement and impasse has not been reached in negotiations."
A group of six grain companies negotiating a new contract with the ILWU said last week they outlined terms for a new collective bargaining agreement to
replace an agreement that expired Sept. 30.
The Pacific Northwest
Grain Handlers (PNGH) said they presented their last, best and final offer today
to the union's representatives.
The two sides have been discussing a new contract since August. When
direct contract talks stalled last month, the parties agreed to invite
the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to assist them in
reaching an agreement. FMCS announced Oct. 18 that both parties
agreed to resume negotiations under FMCS auspices on Oct. 29.
"Despite the work of the federal mediators, discussions on key
issues have failed to produce an agreement. The core disagreements are
not over salaries and benefits, but rather uncompetitive workplace rules
that are significantly different from those agreed to between the ILWU
and two competing grain terminals on the Columbia River," PNGH said. Those are the new EGT (Export Grain Terminal) in Longview, Wash., which opened this year after a dispute with the ILWU, and the Kalma Export Company Terminal in Kalma, Wash.
“The ILWU has bargained in good faith and offered several proposals designed to meet the employers’ needs,” said Leal Sundet, an ILWU coast committeeman who is the co-chairman of the committee that negotiates the Northwest Grainhandler’s Agreement. "We want to keep the grain moving as we have done nonstop since the 1930s. It’s unfortunate that the multinational corporations that are profiting at our ports have failed to accept the workers’ reasonable proposals to reach a fair agreement.”
The ILWU said PNGH's proposal will be reviewed and shared with the union membership before officials comment on it. In the meantime, work is continuing under the full terms of the agreement that the union has developed with the grain elevator owners over the past 80 years and expired on Sept. 30.
“We believe that in light of a low yielding harvest and corresponding high bushel prices, the profitable multinational grain merchants are using the circumstances to undermine a mature 80-year contract with longshoremen that’s made the Northwest one of the most productive grain export regions in the world,” Sundet said.
The ILWU said there have been incorrect media reports that the union is planning to strike.
"No strike vote has been proposed by the union membership. A lockout, during which management would refuse to allow employees to work, differs from a strike in many ways. Lockouts are initiated by the employers," it said.
The ILWU said its members have manned all Northwest grain export terminals since the 1930s. It said the collective bargaining agreement being negotiated covers six terminals operated by Louis Dreyfus in Seattle; Temco/Cargill in Tacoma; United Grain/Mitsui in Vancouver, Wash.; and Temco/Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, and Columbia Grain/Marubeni in Portland, Ore.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Transportation Report
, the Pacific Northwest is the largest gateway for U.S. exports of wheat and the second largest for corn and soybeans after the lower Mississippi River. In 2011, Pacific Northwest ports handled 30.5 million tons of export grain (14 million tons of wheat, 9.2 million tons of corn, and 7.3 million tons of soybeans) compared to 50.6 million tons from the lower Mississippi (5 million tons of wheat, 26.3 million tons of corn, and 19.3 million tons of soybeans.) - Chris Dupin