Grain handlers announce last offer to longshoremen

PORTLAND, Ore. — Companies that operate Pacific Northwest grain terminals have presented the longshore union with what they say is their “last, best and final” contract offer.

“Despite the work of the federal mediators, discussions on key issues have failed to produce an agreement,” Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, said in an e-mail late Friday. McCormick did not disclose specifics of the final proposal.

The Pacific Northwest has nine grain terminals, seven along the Columbia River and two on Puget Sound. More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports and nearly half of U.S. wheat exports move through these facilities.

Six of the nine terminals operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. That deal expired Sept. 30.

Leal Sundet, a coast committeeman for the union, declined to comment on the offer, saying negotiators must first show it to union members.

The Grain Handlers Association has said it wants a contract similar to what longshoremen at the Export Grain Terminal in Longview, Wash., accepted earlier this year.

“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,” McCormick wrote.

Some union members have sharply criticized aspects of the Longview contract. A June 21 note signed by 10 current and retired longshoremen blasted provisions that allow management to fire workers without cause and hire workers directly instead of going through the union hiring hall.

A disruption in the shipment of wheat, corn and soybeans to Asia would add another headache for the Port of Portland, which is contending with a separate labor dispute.

Longshore security officers have announced plans to go on strike a week from Sunday. Though the threatened strike involves only 25 security officers, the impact could be severe because fellow ILWU members won’t cross their picket lines.

Blaise Lamphier, Port labor relations manager, told The Oregonian newspaper that negotiators for the Port and the security officers agreed Friday on 41 of 44 outstanding contract issues. But they remain divided on the toughest issue: a job guarantee sought by members of Local 28.

The double dose of labor trouble at the Port of Portland follows a summer dispute over whether longshoremen or union electricians should perform the work of plugging and unplugging refrigerated shipping containers. Truck queues stretched for more than a mile in June because workers inside the container yard engaged in slowdown tactics.

The decline in production led container ships to temporarily bypass Portland.

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