Pro-Union Protestors Set up River Picket at Port of Kalama

By Erik Olson and Barbara LaBoe, May 7, 2013, Longview Daily News

Nine boats carrying longshore union supporters tried to block a grain ship at the Port of Kalama on Tuesday morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard has cited the owner of a protest boat that violated a 200-yard safety zone at the port.

The incident is a spillover of a Vancouver dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and United Grain. Protesters were trying to impede a grain ship that loaded in Vancouver and then headed to Kalama for more grain.

“We’re not ever going to tolerate a scab boat, and it’s going to escalate” if any vessel serviced by non-union workers tries to dock, said Jake Whiteside, president of Longview-based Local 21 of the ILWU. “I’m paying very close attention.”

By early afternoon, the ship was at anchor on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and was listed as “delayed,” according to Port of Kalama officials.

The protesters said the ship had been loaded using non-union labor in Vancouver, and called those workers “strike breakers” brought in to work during a lockout of ILWU workers.

Petty Officer Shawn Eggert says protesters respected the safety zone until Tuesday, when three boats with pro-union supporters got too close to the tugboat Mary H as it tried to maneuver a grain ship.

Whiteside said ILWU workers have agreed to load grain from Kalama Export onto the ship Wednesday morning, separated from the current load by a plastic tarp. That way, union dockworkers in Japan, where the ship is headed, will know which grain was loaded by union labor, he said.

Safety zone violation

Coast Guard officials said there were nine protest boats out in the water near the terminal when a tugboat began to get into position to maneuver the grain ship, the Mary H. Three of the boats violated a 200-yard safety zone at the terminal, said Petty Officer Shawn Eggert.

The Coast Guard broadcast a call to all boaters in the area about the safety zone. Two Coast Guard crews responded from Portland and boarded one of the protest boats and “informed them about the proper distance,” Eggert said. Eventually, all nine boats left, and protesters said they had completed their “informational picket.”

Eggert did not know if any fines were or will be issued due to the distance violation.

The Mary H was due at the Kalama Export terminal, also known as Peavey, on Tuesday morning. The terminal is located on the north end of the port.

Port Executive Director Mark Wilson said ships often drop anchor if there’s a delay in loading because it’s a safer than remaining in the river channel. He noted that Kalama Export is a private terminal and he had no direct knowledge of why the ship was delayed. Kalama Export officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Contract dispute

The ILWU and United Grain are in a contract dispute, and the union has been locked out of the Vancouver terminal since February after United Grain accused a union worker of sabotage. Both sides have lodged numerous complaints with the National Labor Relations Board about both the contract process and “unfair labor actions.”

Union workers have picketed the terminal and United Grain offices since the lockout. Recently, United Grain acknowledged it had hired some temporary replacement workers to help staff the terminal. They refused to provide any other details, saying employees were being harassed by union supporters.

The ILWU has a temporary operating agreement with Kalama’s other grain terminal, Temco, but negotiations continue with the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association for contracts with United Grain, Louis Dreyfus Commodities and Columbia Grain.

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