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Robert McEllrath, ILWU International President: ‘We will not permit EGT to undermine the grain export industry’

The following letter was sent to all ILWU Longshore Locals on September 1, 2011, from ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's International President Robert McEllrath.

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath wrote, "The NLRB exists for one reason and that is to protect commerce at the expense of workers, and we are not surprised that EGT is employing the NLRB to put down a legitimate labor dispute.."

September 1, 2011

TO: ALL LONGSHORE DIVISION LOCALS

Brothers and Sisters:

ILWU longshoremen work at every grain export facility in the Pacific Northwest – Seattle, Tacoma, Aberdeen, Portland, Vancouver, and Longview. EGT Development (EGT) has built a $200 million facility on the same site as a previous grain facility where longshoremen worked. That site is directly on Port of Longview property. EGT is attempting to break the master grain agreement and become the first grain export terminal in the Pacific Northwest to operate without ILWU. This constitutes an assault on over 80 years of longshore jurisdiction – an assault that could fundamentally change the dynamics of the relationship within the grain industry as a whole. It is critical to the Longshore Division that this does not happen.

Here is some history. Local 21 has been involved in a dispute with EGT for well over a year now. In May 2010, after months of discussions with Local 21, EGT represented to union officials that it would employ Local 21 longshoremen to operate its new facility in Longview. In the following months, EGT sat down with Local 21 and engaged in direct contract negotiations concerning the employment terms for the longshoremen that EGT would be employing. In April 2011, the contract negotiations got stalled over EGT’s demand to have longshoremen work 12 hour shifts without any overtime pay and the company’s refusal to recognize maintenance, repair, and master console jurisdiction. Then, in July 2011, EGT, without any notice to Local 21, transferred the longshore facility work to a subcontractor, General Construction. Operating Engineers Local 701, without the decency of notice to Local 21 signed a contract with General Construction and walked through ILWU picket lines. Since then, Local 21 and the Pacific Northwest locals have been protesting EGT’s action of opening the Longview facility without ILWU. Also, the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board has condemned Local 701, as did the Washington State AFL-CIO at its State Convention.

In late July and early August 2011, EGT filed NLRB charges separately against Local 21 and Local 4. On August 29, 2011, the NLRB filed a consolidated complaint against Local 21 and Local 4 for any number of alleged violations surrounding the EGT dispute. On August 31, 2011, the NLRB filed papers in federal court seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an injunction against Local 21 and Local 4. The NLRB’s motion for a TRO will likely be heard in federal court in the next day or so. The TRO and injunction seek broad prohibition on all manner of traditional union protest, including picketing in any form, against EGT until such time as the NLRB issues a decision in the underlying case.

The NLRB complaint and the motion seeking a TRO and injunction were expected by the Coast Committee. The complaint itself has no legal significance unless sustained after a full trial and currently represents nothing more than mere allegations that are based on incorrect facts and bogus legal conclusions. This, unfortunately, is typical of the NLRB ever since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 transformed its mission to restrict the union and civil rights of union members. The NLRB exists for one reason and that is to protect commerce at the expense of workers, and we are not surprised that EGT is employing the NLRB to put down a legitimate labor dispute.

EGT’s use of the NLRB is the latest tactic in its fight against longshore labor. EGT has also used Operating Engineers Local 701 as a tool to neutralize the momentum of Local 21 by giving the impression that EGT is hiring union labor when in fact Operating Engineers Local 701 was merely hired by EGT’s subcontractor, who was hired by EGT a little over a month ago in July, and can be replaced at any time. EGT has contracted with an out of state public relations firm to wage an aggressive and misleading public relations campaign against Local 21. EGT has employed a professional strikebreaker and labor provocateur from the East Coast to manufacture trouble during otherwise peaceful protest. These are just some of EGT’s tactics, which are ultimately designed to undermine the master grain agreement, which has been in place since 1934.

In addition to this, ILWU union officials and members are being overzealously and disproportionately prosecuted while Cowlitz County authorities turn a blind eye to the conduct of others. Most recently, the Presidents of Local 8 and Local 4 were arrested and charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer because they did not move quickly enough when asked to by police officers. The Cowlitz County District Attorney offered them a plea deal – plead guilty to the charge, get a 365 day suspended sentence, and stay off the picket line or go to jail for a mandatory 365 days. By comparison, an individual was caught on video purposefully driving through peaceful picketers as he drove into EGT’s Longview facility. One picketer was taken to the hospital as a result. Cowlitz County officials, who reviewed the video, declined to prosecute the driver, instead arresting a protester who allegedly dented another vehicle with his knee. He was charged with a felony.

Despite the fact that Local 21’s dispute is clearly with EGT, the NLRB complaint alleges that Local 21’s dispute is really with the subcontractor that EGT hired in July. The documented facts at trial will prove the NLRB wrong. Local 21’s dispute is with no one other than EGT, and this means that federal labor law entitles Local 21 to conduct picketing and other collective actions directed at EGT.

The bottom line is that EGT is failing to comply with its own lease agreement at the Port of Longview, which requires that EGT employ Local 21 longshoremen. EGT is in Longview for one reason, to make as much money as possible for its foreign owners while spending as little as possible in the U.S. Local 21 is invested in its community and is standing up to EGT’s attempt to take advantage of local resources and to undermine 80 years of longshore jurisdiction.

The ILWU Coast Longshore Division will not let recent developments interfere in any way with its right to take all necessary and legal steps on behalf of Local 21 to obtain a fair agreement with EGT. We will not permit EGT to undermine the grain export industry or further deteriorate the working conditions in Longview.

In Solidarity,

Robert McEllrath
International President

RMcE/lk
cwa39521

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