by Adam Rothstein
***We’ve heard conflicting statements about the accuracy of the original article. The article below reflects our most current knowledge. We’re awaiting updates and will report as soon as they are available.***
Sources close to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 in Longview, Washington say that West Coast Occupations and all friends of the 99% should be “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the struggle in Longview. A vote taken in Longview today was not on the official contract, but was only on a tentative agreement. Now the union and EGT will engage in collective bargaining before any contract is put forward to the membership for ratification. All information about the contract and the negotiations are confidential and confirmation on any details has not been officially released by Local 21.
The organizers of Solidarity with Longview Working Group from across the West Coast say that they are optimistic about the possible outcome for the workers and the community of Longview but that they will not stand down until there is 100% confirmation on the contract details and outcome of the vote from the rank-and-file of Local 21. It is unclear when the union will release details, but collective bargaining is often a lengthy process.
If the contract is passed by the rank and file, this is expected to conclude a strike action against the EGT grain terminal in Longview which had been ongoing for several months. The working agreement between the Port and ILWU Local 21 already had established 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 $200 million grain terminal.
EGT demanded wages below ILWU standards, no time and a half for overtime, and reduced safety procedures during its previously 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.
In addition to the resilient actions of the ILWU strikers, the workers were joined in solidarity the last two months by activists from the Occupy movements in various cities, including Portland, Seattle, Longview, and Oakland. Under the organizing banner of “Solidarity with Longview”, these activists were preparing a caravan to join in the blockade of a grain ship intended to break the strike.
Information indicated that the ship was near the Columbia River, and was scheduled to dock at the port in the next several days. The pressure that the impending blockade 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. 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.
While the details of the negotiations are not known, Occupiers will continue to organize in the event of either continuing the struggle or to celebrating with the community of Longview.
We will update this story with more details and statements from both Occupy the EGT and the ILWU, as soon as they are available.