Longshoremen voted down grain handlers' 'best and final offer'


Capital Press

Several Northwest grain handlers planned to implement a new labor contract on Dec. 27 even though the longshoremen's union overwhelmingly rejected the deal in a recent vote.

However, there will not be an immediate disruption of grain exports from the six export terminals as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed to continue working "despite the substandard provisions of the employer's last offer," according to a statement.

Labor disruptions at the six terminals have loomed as a possibility since the union's last contract with terminal owners expired on Sept. 30.

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.

The parties continued negotiations until more than 90 percent of voting union members voted down the grain handlers' "last, best and final offer" on Dec. 24.

The Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which represents the terminal owners, said the bargaining has reached an impasse but longshoremen will not be locked out from the facilities and may return to work.

Longshoremen can continue to try negotiating with the grain handlers, call a strike or accept the terms of the contract, according to a statement from the association.

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 $30 per hour in benefits, the statement said.

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