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Union says Mitsui-United Grain lockout is ‘violation of U.S. labor law’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 28, 2013
CONTACT: Jennifer Sargent, 503-703-2933

Leaders say company has not shown evidence to back its accusations, and that security guards have been ‘shadowing and harassing our members every day’

PORTLAND, OR (February 28, 2013) – The men and women of ILWU Local 4, who have been working to reach a fair agreement with their multinational grain terminal employers for several months, were locked out of their jobs in Vancouver, Washington, in the early morning of February 27 by Japanese conglomerate Mitsui. The ILWU has represented grain handlers since the 1930’s in Vancouver, Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, and in Portland, Oregon.

Mitsui’s United Grain Corp. accused a single union worker of damaging equipment – based on hidden evidence that has never been shown to the Union or the accused – in order to justify its unlawful and aggressive lockout of its entire Local 4 represented work force. None of the other member-companies of the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association have pursued this punitive and destructive path.

“Mitsui-United Grain has fabricated a story as an excuse to do what they’ve wanted to do all along, which is to lock workers out instead of reach a fair agreement with them,” the ILWU said in a statement on the morning of the lockout. Mitsui unilaterally imposed concessionary terms after Local 4 members rejected the Company’s final offer in December. “This lockout has been part of Mitsui’s plan from the beginning of negotiations. For the past two months Mitsui’s hired security guards have been shadowing and harassing our members every day at the United Grain elevator. This shows they’ve been itching to lock us all out, rather than negotiate a fair contract like their U.S.-based competitors.” said ILWU Coast Committeeman and co-negotiating chairman Leal Sundet.

“Mitsui-United Grain has chosen to announce unfounded charges based on hidden evidence just days after the union membership ratified an agreement with TEMCO, Mitsui-United Grain’s American competitors in Portland, Kalama and Tacoma,” said Sundet.

In the days preceding the Mitsui-United Grain lockout, ILWU Locals 4, 8, 19, 21 and 23 ratified an interim agreement with Mitsui’s U.S.-based competitor, TEMCO. ILWU International President Robert McEllrath stated that the TEMCO agreement “was achieved because American companies, farmers and workers recognize a common interest in our country’s resources and economic well being. That common interest is not reflected in the grain companies that have unilaterally implemented a contract that undermines American working standards at their competing facilities.”

“If Mitsui-United Grain had legitimate concerns about safety or equipment, or especially the conduct of an employee, they would have come to us at the bargaining table. Instead this corporation has chosen to lock out its entire workforce – a blatant example of guilt by association, and a violation of U.S. labor law,” said Rich Austin, Jr, Seattle-based co-negotiating chairman for the union. In November, several multinational grain corporations operating in the Pacific Northwest including Mitsui-United Grain gave ILWU workers a final offer that demanded deep concessions, even though the companies have been successful under the longstanding agreement and impasse had not been reached in negotiations.

In December, members voted by a 93.8% margin to reject the employers’ concessionary proposal, and called the employer back to the table to continue negotiating. Most of the employers implemented the concessionary proposal in late December. Only TEMCO, a joint venture of Minnesota-based Cargill and CHS, continued talking with the union. Last month, TEMCO and the ILWU reached a five-year deal that was recently ratified by both parties. The TEMCO interim agreement will cover TEMCO’s grain export facilities in Portland, Ore., and in Tacoma and Kalama, Wash. The agreement will be signed and implemented on March 9, 2013, and is subject to modification to reflect an eventual final agreement between the ILWU and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.

The ILWU has worked since the 1930s under the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers’ Agreement, which currently covers six grain terminals owned by:

  • Japan-based Mitsui (United Grain in Vancouver)
  • Japan-based Marubeni (Columbia Grain in Portland)
  • Netherlands-based Louis Dreyfus Commodities (elevators in Seattle and Portland)
  • US-based Cargill and CHS (TEMCO elevators in Tacoma, Kalama and Portland)

The Grain Handlers’ collective bargaining agreement expired on September 29, and all employers except TEMCO imposed the substandard contract three months later. Of all the member-elevators of the Grain Handlers’ Association, only Mitsui’s United Grain has locked out its employees.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union represents 50,000 men and women on the docks and in other industries in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada and Panama.

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