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Strange sympathy for Longshore lawlessness

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 8, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
September 8, 2011 5:45 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

What are Washington’s Longshore unions thinking? How can raw thuggery in Longview possibly deserve sympathy strikes in Tacoma, Seattle, Everett and Anacortes?

Longshoremen at the Port of Longview on Thursday looked and acted like they were out to confirm every stereotype of ugly, brutish union goons.

According to news reports, at least five hundred of longshoremen and supporters – some wielding baseball bats and crowbars – overwhelmed police, broke into a terminal, held security guards hostage and sabotaged boxcars.

The provocation appears to be a police attempt Wednesday to prevent longshoremen from illegally blocking railroad tracks into the terminal. International Longshore and Warehouse Union President Bob McElrath and more than a dozen others wound up arrested; the only logical response, apparently, was mob action.

At the heart of this is a dispute over whether members of two ILWU locals have a right to the highly paid jobs at the new Longview terminal, which is owned by EGT Development. EGT has shut the ILWU out, instead hiring members of an Oregon-based local of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

The ILWU didn’t like the precedent, which conceivably threatened its hold on other West Coast terminals. While that’s a legitimate concern, it doesn’t begin to justify mass lawlessness and violence. Even before Thursday’s mob action, the union-friendly National Labor Relations Board had charged the ILWU locals with unfair labor practices of a highly physical nature.

Unfortunately, the ILWU nastiness wasn’t confined to Longview. Also on Thursday came the “solidarity” strikes that shut down other ports, including Tacoma’s and Seattle’s.

Officials at the international union’s San Francisco headquarters say these were local, spontaneous wildcat strikes. They were also a pointed reminder that the union holds the power to shut down maritime commerce up and down the West Coast.

Acknowledging this power, cargo carriers and terminal operators long ago made their peace with the ILWU – or thought they did – by signing some of the most generous union contracts in history.

The current agreement between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (which bargains for employers) provides senior ILWU members with – hold your breath – an average full-time wage of $136,000 a year. Clerks make $145,731. Foremen make $200,052.

That was the compact: The ILWU kept the ports running; in return, its members got paid like royalty. Benefits include comprehensive health care coverage with no premiums and no deductibles.

A deal like this should buy reliability and the kind of certainty shippers must have. Thursday’s strikes, we hope, were aberrations that won’t be repeated.

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