by Adam Rothstein
UPDATE:Occupy the EGT has put out a press release, acknowledging the possibility of a settlement. According to the statement, “Anonymous sources indicate that President McElrath [of the ILWU] has negotiated a tentative agreement, which states that no work at the terminal in Longview will be performed until a labor agreement is reached.” The release then highlights that the caravan to blockade the port will continue its preparations, to ensure that the agreement is reached and EGT maintains this direction of compromise.
The release also mentioned EGT’s parent company, Bunge, and their history of violations of labor and tax law, their bad history with unions around the world, and other unscrupulous activities such as rain forest destruction and contemporary slave labor. Occupy Portland organizer Kari Koch was quoted as saying, “The Occupy Movement engages in new forms of struggle in the interest of the working class in the US and around the world. We will continue to put pressure on EGT and their parent company Bunge Ltd until the rank-and-file workers’ have seen some justice. Beyond this labor struggle, we will still work to hold Bunge Ltd. accountable for their despicable labor and environmental record around the world. Bunge’s actions are not unique; this is symptomatic of larger problems with our economic system.”
Sources at Occupy Longview report that EGT, the owner of a new terminal at the Port of Longview, has reached a tentative settlement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, as a result of a planned boycott and blockage of an upcoming grain ship scheduled to arrive at the port.
Information indicates that the ship is near the Columbia River now, and was scheduled to dock at the port in the next several days. A coalition of Occupy groups including Portland, Oakland, and Longview were planning a major action in solidarity with the ILWU to block the ship from loading at the terminal, until EGT agreed to honor the contract ILWU has with the Port of Longview. The pressure that this impending action had upon the corporation is undeniable: in the last weeks, it was discovered that the Coast Guard, under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security, created a security zone around the port to attempt to ensure the loading could progress unhindered. A major caravan of Occupiers from Portland and Oakland were ready at a moment’s notice to travel to Longview to support the blockade, waiting on notice of the ship’s arrival. After Occupy activists from these cities succeeded in blocking port terminals in their cities on December 12th, it was made clear that Occupy stands in solidarity with labor on these issues, and was willing to fight along side unions to defend the rights of collective bargaining, in order to win a living wage and workplace standards for all workers.
The working agreement between the Port and ILWU Local 21 establishes that all cargo handling and equipment maintenance performed on Port property will be by ILWU labor. When EGT came to Longview to build the first grain terminal in the US in 20 years, the Port and EGT touted the project as a creator of local jobs and tax revenue. During construction, EGT hired workers from out of state and paid sub-standard wages. EGT received tax dollars to finance the $200M grain terminal.
EGT demanded wages below ILWU standards, no time and a half for overtime, and reduced safety procedures during its unsuccessful negotiation with the ILWU. Then EGT hired a third party, General Construction Co, to develop a contract with a different union, which accepted its terms. The ILWU has been picketing the new grain terminal for months, demanding that EGT honor the terms of the Port’s contract with the union.
While the details of the agreement between EGT and the union are not yet known, the fact of the settlement was announced by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, and was posted on the EGT website.
It is important to note that this agreement is only temporary, until the membership of the union has a chance to vote on it. For now, the mobilization to blockade the Port of Longview is holding in readiness, awaiting the decision by the workers.