By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Work resumed Dec. 26 at six Northwest grain export terminals despite the longshore union's rejection of a labor contract offer.
However, labor disruptions at the six facilities continue to loom as a possibility while grain terminal owners decide how to react to the refusal of their "last, best and final offer."
"What happens now is a question mark," said Pat McCormick, spokesperson for the Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which represents the terminal owners.
Longshoremen have worked since Sept. 30 without a new contract, but there currently is no timeline for adopting a new contract or when the handlers will take any action, he said.
Jennifer Sargent, spokesperson for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said the handlers' contract offer was rejected by 90 percent of the union members who voted.
The union voted on the proposal during Dec. 21-22 meetings and officially rejected the offer on Dec. 24.
The ILWU has repeatedly alluded to safety concerns about the labor contract, but the grain handlers have denied that the proposal attempts to reduce safety precautions.
The six export facilities in Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., just want the same work rules as those at competing terminals in Longview and Kalama, Wash., which negotiated deals separately, according to the grain handlers.
For example, the Longview and Kalama terminals are able to employ fewer workers to load ships, can rely on grain elevator employees to assist in loading and have more flexibility in hiring decisions, the handlers said in a statement.
Longshoremen would earn $34 to $36 per hour under the contract offer they rejected, plus another $30 per hour in benefits, the statement said.
Roughly half the wheat exported from the U.S. is shipped through Northwest terminals. Farmers and grain elevators are worried about grain piling up if longshoremen are locked out of facilities or if they strike.