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Longshore workers’ grain agreement heralds return to work

News release from the International Transport Workers’ Federation:

United States longshore workers who load grain in Pacific Northwest export terminals voted on 26 August to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with several multinational grain companies.

ITF affiliate the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) had accused the global grain giants of attacking an 80-year-old collective bargaining agreement with the union. A successful agreement was reached after two years of negotiations involving 70 separate sessions. The dispute saw lockouts at Portland’s Columbia Grain and Vancouver’s United Grain facilities, when the multinationals reportedly hired non-union replacement workers. The agreement heralded the return to work on 27 August of ILWU members.

The vote included members of ILWU Local 8 in Portland, Oregon; and in Washington State, Local 4 in Vancouver, Local 21 in Longview, Local 19 in Seattle and Local 23 in Tacoma. They collectively voted 88.4% in favour of a tentative agreement with Louis Dreyfus Commodities, United Grain Corporation and Columbia Grain Inc that includes work rule changes and wage increases, and which will be in effect until 31 May, 2018. Members voting for the agreement totalled 1,475, with 193 voting against.

Ray Familathe, international vice president of the ILWU and ITF dockers’ section vice chair, said: “Bargaining was difficult, but in the end, both sides compromised significantly from their original positions, resulting in a workable collective bargaining agreement that preserves the work of the ILWU-represented workforce and fosters stability for the export grain industry.”

The ITF launched a solidarity campaign for the longshore workers and its affiliates worldwide also demonstrated their support – for example, the captain and crew of the vessel Ramada Queen at United Grain in Vancouver Port in 2013 offered solidarity on behalf of their own union, the Japanese Seamen’s Union (JSU). The JSU’s contracts include an ITF solidarity clause that its members will honour other unions’ picket lines.

ITF general secretary Steve Cotton congratulated the ILWU on the successful outcome and remarked that it sent a clear message to other multinationals that the union family would not stand by when they try to put profit above workers’ rights.

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