Tacoma union longshore workers were laboring today at Tacoma’s Temco grain terminal under the provisions of an existing labor agreement despite the imposition of a new set of wages and working conditions by other companies at Northwest export grain elevators.
Scott Mason, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23 president, said Temco apparently isn’t following the pattern set by those other grain terminal owners.
Those owners, Louis Dreyfus, United Grain and Columbia Grain, represented by the Northwest Grain Handlers Association, this week implemented their “last, best and final” contract offer despite Longshore union members’ rejection of that agreement in a weekend vote. Some 94 percent of union members voting chose to reject the offer.
The three terminal operators informed the union early this week they would impose the offer, an action allowed under labor law. Temco, a joint venture of Cargill and CHS, didn’t sign that letter. Temco had been negotiating with the other three companies until that point.
Under labor law, the terminal operators could have locked out union members, or the union could have struck the terminals. The grain terminal operators reportedly have hired strikebreakers to man the terminals in case of a strike or lockout, and they’ve brought in non-union tugboat operators to escort grain ships to the terminals through on-water picket lines, if necessary.
A strike or lockout could create major issues for farmers, grain exporters and foreign companies importing U.S. grain. Northwest ports handle about 25 percent of U.S. grain exports and half of the nation’s wheat exports.
Temco operates a grain terminal on Tacoma’s Schuster Parkway, a terminal in Portland and a Kalama terminal. That Kalama terminal is operated under a separate agreement with Longshore Local 21 of Longview.
Mason said the union has suggested further negotiating dates to Temco.
“Our goal is to get back to the table,” said Mason. “We believe that they want an agreement or they wouldn’t have broken away from the other three.”
The Tacoma grain terminal is the largest single provider of jobs for Local 23.
The new contract offer, now in effect at the other companies’ terminals in Puget Sound and on the Columbia River, makes work rule changes the union says are unacceptable and threaten safety at the terminals.
The contract, the grain companies said, would raise the hourly wage rate to $34 to $36 and benefit costs to $30 an hour.
Some of those work rule concessions, the grain handlers association claims, are already in effect at the EGT terminal in Longview and the Temco terminal in Kalama, both covered by separate contracts.
Temco and its parent, Cargill, declined to comment on the situation saying they never comment on ongoing labor negotiations.