by Cate Patricolo
After tense months of speculation, Occupy organizers finally declare victory, as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Export Grain Terminal (EGT) operating at Local Port 21 in Longview, WA have finalized a collective bargaining contract. The contract was signed by representatives of both parties on February 10, 2012, and signifies the official end to the longshore workers’ strike. On December 12, 2011, Occupy Portland activists stood in solidarity with the workers by successfully blocking grain shipments to Port 5 on the Columbia River. The shipments in question were intended to be received and unloaded by scab workers, and would have continued to undermine the efforts of the ILWU to reach a bargain on behalf of the longshore union members.
The ILWU was elected by majority vote on January 31 to represent over 50,000 longshore workers in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia. Ground was made by the ILWU when the EGT Local 21 voluntarily agreed to recognise ILWU as the official collective bargaining representative for the workers on February 2. The new contract will cover both maintenance and production work at the $200 million Local 21 facility in Longview, Washington as well as all other EGT facilities on the Pacific. It also covers all workers in all states and facilities, both on- and off-shore, and promotes safe working conditions, worker welfare, job security, and fair wages.
EGT, LLC is a joint venture between three Agribusiness conglomerates worth a net of at least $2 billion: The North American arm of Bunge Limited; the US subsidiary of the Japanese trading corporation ITOCHU International, Inc.; and the South Korean bulk carrier corporation STX Pan Ocean. The strike by the workers against the EGT began in July along the West Coast, and was focused on poor working conditions, forced overtime, and a pension fund that was only at 64%. The EGT continued to run a scab operation at the ports after the strike took effect, which reportedly violated a 75-year agreement with the ILWU.
Workers gained traction on September 7, when union supporters successfully blocked grain shipments at Local 4 in Vancouver, Washington, followed by a successful block at Local 21. Over 30,000 Occupy Oakland activists led the Occupy movement into solidarity with the longshore workers by shutting down Local 6 on November 2. Other ports all along the West Coast were shut down as Occupy protesters joined the workers’ cause, but Local 21 remained as a scab operation and was considered the final hurdle for a settlement between ILWU and the EGT. A day after the official February 10 agreement, longshore workers identified the Occupy Movement as crucial to their ability to reach a final settlement with the EGT and remain in their jobs.
“This is a victory for Occupy in their involvement in forcing negotiations. Make no mistake – the solidarity and organization between the Occupy Movement and the Longshoremen won this contract,” said Jack Mulcahy, ILWU officer with Local 8. “The mobilization of the Occupy Movement across the country, particularly in Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and Longview were a critical element in bringing EGT to the bargaining table and forcing a settlement with ILWU local 21.”
Monday, February 13, marked the first unloading of grain shipments by longshore workers at the docks of Local 21 since the beginning of the strike, and scab workers were officially sent home. Both parties appear to be pleased with the results of the bargaining efforts. In a press release, ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman said, “People are happy to see we can all move forward now and do what we’re here to do, which is work hard and support our community.” ILWU President Robert McEllrath was just as optimistic: “The men and women of the ILWU have crafted hundreds of collective bargaining agreements over the past several decades that have made many companies profitable while also providing family wage jobs for communities like Longview.” EGT CEO Larry Clarke said in his press release, “This is a positive development for EGT, the ILWU and the Longview community… We appreciate the efforts of Governor Gregoire and ILWU President McEllrath, who helped make this possible so our operations can expand economic benefits to the local community.”
The agreement reached has a five-year duration, after which it may be open to re-negotiation. The extent of possible financial damage to EGT caused by the strike is not immediately known.