Global grain giants, 80 years into contract, try to squeeze longshore workers
Wheat-based bread on Japan’s dinner tables and soy-fed beef in China – These are just two of the rapidly growing trends that are making American and Canadian grain hot export commodities. Thanks to these and other favorable conditions, grain is the new gold for multinationals eager to move valuable cargo for a healthy profit.
Yet despite having a robust long term financial outlook, multinational greed reared its ugly head on the first day of grain negotiations between the ILWU and industry representatives on August 29 in Portland.
“Global grain exporters are trying to put the squeeze on the longshoremen who have worked for decades to make the Pacific Northwest grain export industry the success that it is today,” said Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet, co-chairman of the committee that negotiates the Northwest Grainhandler’s Agreement. “We have an 80-year contract with these companies, and the employer is trying to undermine the standards that have made them rich. It’s critical that workers protect the gains we’ve made over the years.”
Grain moguls enabled EGT, now try to undermine successful contract
Last year, Local 21 members waged a year-long battle to win a collective bargaining agreement at the nation’s newest elevator at EGT in Longview, WA. Along with the support of the Coast, all other ILWU locals and dockworker unions worldwide, they stood up for their rights and suffered hundreds of arrests in the process. In February, the battle was won as Local 21 secured a contract that brought EGT in line by paying the ILWU/PMA assessments for welfare and pension. The union’s struggle with EGT kept the industry stable.
Unfortunately, the ILWU’s dispute with EGT was undermined by Northwest elevator operators who worked in collusion with EGT by moving EGT’s grain during the protests. Now, those same operators are miscasting reality to achieve leverage, that capitulated to, and actually undermines the 90-year stability of the grain industry.“The Northwest Grainhandler’s Agreement is a mature, decades-long contract that has made the Northwest one of the most productive export grain export regions in the world,” said Sundet. “The EGT contract will build in subsequent negotiations. The industry moguls are mistaken in thinking they can take advantage of a new competitor to downgrade their own successful contract.”
Big grain rakes it in while poor go hungry
While the grain giants hide behind an “American farmer” façade when they present their propaganda to the media, the truth is these multinationals are enjoying extremely healthy financial returns.
The International Business Times recently reported that “In 2011 when food prices peaked at record highs, ADM reported a net profit of $2.04 billion, a 5 percent increase, on revenue that rose more than 30 percent to over $80 billion. Privately-held Cargill’s revenue rose to $119.5 billion (+18 percent) for the year, while profit jumped 35 percent to $2.7 billion.”
In addition, United Grain reported revenues of $2.16 billion in 2012. Louis Dreyfus did not disclose their revenues. An Oxfam report exposed the huge global traders’ impact on poor people around the globe, showing that when food prices rise, grain giants profit and the poor are forced to rely on humanitarian aid.
“They are profiting from markets that ought not be profitable,” Sophia Murphy, senior adviser on trade and global governance at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, told the IBT. “They do not have the public interest at heart.”
Pacific Northwest longshoremen key gateway for grainThe grain that longshoremen export from Northwest ports accounts for between one-quarter to one-third of U.S. grain exports. For example, the Port of Vancouver USA handled 16% of all U.S. wheat exports on their docks in 2011, some 3.6 million tons. Other Northwest ports are handling grain of all kinds, including soybeans, corn and other commodities and they also showed impressive volumes in 2011.
The negotiating team that’s fighting for the union includes the Coast Committee (Pres. Bob McEllrath, Vice Pres. Ray Familathe, and Coast Committeemen Ray Ortiz, Jr. and Leal Sundet) and four locals: Co-chair Rich Austin, Jr. of Local 19; Brad Clark, Larry Sefton, Brett Lynch and Todd Walker representing Local 4; Stuart Wilson, John Miken and Trae DelaCruz representing Local 8; Brad Bakken and Cameron Williams representing Local 19; and Scott Mason, Roger Boespflug and Dave McCormick representing Local 23. Finally, Dan Coffman is representing Local 21’s interests.
— Jennifer Sargent