Crisis Averted? Obama Set to Use Coast Guard Against ILWU in Longview, WA

Jan. 27, 2012

The title should have you quivering with rage if you believe that the workers of America have taken all the abuse they can by now, and need to push back hard against the onslaught of illegal and immoral actions underwritten by those for whom profit is King, and a person’s labor is just another commodity to be purchased at the lowest cost possible.

This administration has cavalierly allowed the Employee Free Choice Act to languish in Congress for three years now, and the President never did show up in support of Wisconsin workers’ rights to organize and demonstrate against the cruel anti-union and anti-collective bargaining laws illegally passed by the state legislature in March of this year.

I know you don’t need reminding, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this quote and video link from Candidate Obama speaking in Spartanburg, SC on Nov. 3, 2007:

“And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I’ll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.

(bolds will be mine throughout)

You’ll no doubt remember the story Robert Alexander Dumas told us about the wildcat strike staged by ILWU Local 21 against the transnational conglomerate EGT at the Port of Longview back in September.  This is the short version of the cause that provoked the strike; from his piece:

“A transnational consortium by the name of EGT negotiated a long term lease on a property with the municipal authorities at the Port of Longview in the State of Washington. They spent $200 million dollars constructing a new grain handling port/rail terminal facility. Under the terms of the lease granted to EGT by the Port of Longview, EGT was obligated to fill the newly created jobs by employing ILWU (the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) workers.

“After shopping around and finding a community that was the……most……desperate for some good jobs, and using that fact as leverage to extract concessions on acquisition of the land, as well as tax concessions from the municipality while negotiating the lease; having gotten all that they wanted from the Port of Longview and its citizen taxpayers, EGT began reneging on their obligations. They did not hire the longshoremen as stipulated in the lease. This traitorous behaviour after being granted a special tax exemption in the Washington state tax laws. The taxpaying citizens of Washington had agreed to forego an amount of taxes that would be a “remittance equal to one hundred percent of the amount of tax paid for qualifying construction, materials, service, and labor.”

EGT and its parent company Bunge, Ltd. have a long history of bringing in scab workers at lower wage rates all over the world, according to the Occupy the EGT! group. Their actions against workers have made them a target of strikes and lawsuits globally; in other words, they epitomize the workers’ struggle against the 1%.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that with their breadth of reach, they are changing the face of agricultural production, crop processing and delivery in a severely deleterious way.

Recently Robert McEllrath, President of the National ILUW sent a letter to all the local ILWU bosses and foremen that stated in part:

“We are currently engaged in a labor dispute with one of our employers, EGT, in the Pacific Northwest. EGT continues to refuse to return to the negotiating table with Local 21 after walking away from nearly two years of direct contract negotiations over the terms of employment for the longshore workers that EGT would be employing at its new facility in the very location on public port property that longshore workers have been performing longshore work for decades.

We believe that at some point this month a vessel will call at the EGT facility in Longview, Washington. We have been told that this vessel will be escorted by armed United States Coast Guard, including the use of small vessels and helicopters, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the EGT facility and that the facility itself will be protected by a full complement of local law enforcement from multiple jurisdiction..”

EGT’s refusal to continue negotiations fit the President’s stated conditions for his promise that he’d ‘stand in the workers’ corner,’ now doesn’t it?  Here’s Big Bob talking about the slated negotiations back in Feb, 2009, describing the ports shutdown and lockout of 2002.

We have to assume that the threat of a Coast Guard escort for the ship is well-founded; these folks aren’t known to go off half-cocked, nor would they be so massively organizing against some bogus rumor.  The source must have been deemed extremely reliable, and militarization of the escort of an EGT ship is quite a few notches past what Robert discovered for his reporting:

“According to sources I developed this weekend, EGT has brought in a para-military style organization out of Baltimore, Maryland that goes by the name of the Special Response Corporation whose web page you can peruse here. Among other things that they claim to be good at is“Counter-terrorism and threat mitigation systems”. Another interesting claim they make at the above cited website is that “Our personnel command rather than demand respect, their training, bearing and equipment make this possible”. What that means is that after you hire them, you can dress them however you wish, SRC security, or SRC military. Whatever you think might be appropriate for your situation.”

Private security firms being used against Union Strikers have been used since the turn of the century when the Pinkertons and other private firms seem to have been issue carte blanche to neutralize unions and strikes.

McEllrath in his letter went to great lengths to thread the needle about which actions have been deemed as okay by the Courts, and which to avoid in order to be in compliance:

The NLRB is currently seeking a second injunction, this time on behalf of PMA, on the theory that any disruption of work by the ILWU on the West Coast docks at the same time that the Union is protesting EGT constitutes a violation of Taft-Hartley. However, we have no dispute with PMA or its member companies. Thus, any showing of support for Local 21 at the time that a vessel calls at the EGT facility must be measured to ensure that the West Coast ports have sufficient manpower so as not to impact cargo movement for PMA member companies. A call for a protest of EGT is not a call for a shutdown of West Coast ports and must not result in one.”

The PMA is Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), an organization that represents dock employers in labor agreements, specifically with the ILWU.  Heh.

McEllrath speaks to the lies that were given to the media about Local 21 ‘taking hostages’, and the history of duplicity of the EGT ‘negotiators, who left the table after two years, never returned, and filed a request in court to rescind EGT’s contract with the City of Longview that required they use local union workers at the Port. He offers the ILWU’s official solidarity with Occupy! here, and also says:

“ILWU’s labor dispute with EGT is symbolic of what is wrong in the United States today. Corporations, no matter how harmful the conduct to society, enjoy full state and federal protection while workers and the middle class get treated as criminals for trying to protect their jobs and communities.”

How long will we put up with the current system of two-tiered justice in this country? It’s no small wonder that the push-back against EGT in Longview will have major ramifications in the labor struggle.  On one hand, you have the might and massive coffers of EGT and Bunge, an NLRB that seems overly sympathetic to them given their request for an injunction on behalf of the PMA, and amounts to what ILWU Local 21 calls a ‘make or break struggle for workers everywhere’.

Their press release says:

Longview Local 21 and San Francisco Local 10, Harry Bridges’s local, are asking for your support.  The struggle is coming to a head as EGT plans to bring in a ship to load the scab grain stored in their terminal in Longview.  This could happen at any time, possibly in mid- to late-January. We are urging workers to join a caravan to go to Longview from your area when the ship comes in and to participate in a mass labor protest rally.  It’s your right and your duty, to your fellow union members and to yourself.

If thousands of union brothers and sisters show up, along with supporters in other unions and the Occupy movement who have aided the struggle against EGT in Longview, we can put a stop to this union-busting operation.  We won’t have much advance warning.  So we need to prepare to come with our workmates, friends, family, with everyone who understands that our future is at stake in Longview.  Get ready to be there!

The press release offers gratitude for the massive success of Occupy West Coast Port Shutdown!  On Dec. 12, and quotes Local 21 Dan Coffman as saying that Occupy will never know what a shot in the arm Occupy’s solidarity with union workers has meant to their membership.

They advise further:

“Together we have the power!  Use it or lose it.  Show that working people are ready, willing and able to fight for our rights.”

Occupy EGT lists various organizations who have declared solidarity for the Occupy EGT’s Caravan to Longview, including Railroad Workers United, Family Farm Defenders, US Labor Against the War, Occupies, including Oakland, Longview and Portland.  The San Francisco and Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Counties Central Labor Councils have already declared their support.  This letter sent by the South Central Federation of Labor in Wisconsin to the Obama Administration states in part:

“Use of our tax dollars and our military to assist such union busting is horrifying.  Mr. President, as Commander in Chief, we call upon you to order the Coast Guard to stand down, to not interfere on the side of management in this labor dispute.”


Freelance writer Ben Schreiner in Salem, WA, writes up the story, and asks, in effect:

Which Side Are You On, (AFL-CIO) Mr. Trumka? Schreiner reports on Trumka’s failure to address the issue in anything but a cowardly way, including making no mention of it at the AFL-CIO’s website:

“Mr. Trumka, on the other hand, has made just one statement on the matter, coming back in July.  In it, he deemed the struggle a mere “jurisdictional dispute.” Trumka’s remarks were prompted by an Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board resolution condemning the actions of International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 701—an AFL-CIO affiliate currently crossing ILWU pickets to work the EGT terminal—as “scab labor.”

Given that both unions reside within the national federation, Trumka went on to note that no AFL-CIO body had “the authority to intervene or take sides.”  He did clarify, however, that “this should not be construed as a judgment on the merits of the dispute.” [snip]

And with such widespread support, coming from both within and without the house of labor, ample incentive and political cover would seemingly be in place for Trumka to step forth and take a firm stand against the jurisdictional raiding and corporate colluding of an AFL-CIO affiliate union.

Yet, as labor activist Harry Kelber writes, AFL-CIO leaders to this very day continue to “prefer a passive membership, rather than a militant one that might call for reforms.” However, continuing to cling to such conservative pragmatism, while ignoring the broad working class militancy and solidarity presently unfolding around the Longview struggle, is a posture Trumka can ill afford to maintain.  For in doing so, Trumka only promises to relegate the AFL-CIO to further irrelevancy.

So.  We know that this administration is on the side of big business and profit.  What we want to know, Mr. Trumka, is which side are you on?


I just spoke with the ILWU Deputy Communications Director in San Francisco, who told me that Gov. Gregoire was able to get EGT back to the negotiating table, and I found news that both parties have reached a tentative agreement that could end the years-long dispute over hiring local ILUW union workers.  Robert McEllrath:

“This is a win for the ILWU, EGT, and the Longview community. I want to thank Governor Gregoire for her leadership in working with both parties to find common ground. The ILWU has eight decades of grain export experience in the Northwest and we look forward to the opportunity to develop a positive working relationship with EGT.”

Until members of ILWU Local 21 have approved the tentative agreement,  the labor movement and its allies will remain on alert, ready for solidarity action, union officials said.

May I ask that if you are on social networks, or have phones that Tweet, you get this story out, and ask people to stay tuned for news at the ILWU’s website to keep abreast of developments.  Also take note that the added muscle of Occupy will have helped Governor Gregoire to get EGT back to the table.  Further alliance with big labor will be immeasurably helpful in expanding support for the democracy and justice movement.

If a new contract is signed, and if the deal is a good one for workers, it may prove to have been a watershed event in modern worker solidarity, and will stand as a beacon to workers around the world.

[Update] From the ILWU Local 21 website; sorry I didn’t check  earlier):

CONTACT: Jennifer Sargent, 503-703-2933

LONGVIEW, WA (January 27, 2012) — Today, the Port of Longview approved a settlement agreement with EGT and the ILWU settling unresolved legal issues between the parties. The Port also approved an amendment to its lease with EGT agreeing that EGT is no longer bound by the Port’s Working Agreement with ILWU Local 21. In exchange, EGT agreed that the ILWU/PMA Joint Dispatch Hall (Local 21) shall provide the labor for EGT’s facility at the Port of Longview, and agreed to a union card check procedure. If a majority of workers indicate their preference to be represented by ILWU Local 21 at the EGT facility, EGT and ILWU Local 21 expect to negotiate the details of a labor agreement for all landside and shipside operations.

ILWU Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet said, “In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, ILWU Local 21’s rank and file approved the legal settlement agreement and the steps forward. Today’s developments are a positive signal that the relationship between ILWU Local 21 and EGT is moving in the right direction.”
Hmmm.  Stay tuned.


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