Court, not mobs, will decide dispute

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 are in a dispute with a Columbia River grain terminal at the Port of Longview in Washington.

EGT, a joint venture of Bunge Ltd., Japan-based Itochu Corp. and STX Pan Ocean Co. of South Korea, owns the new $200 million grain terminal. It has leased land from the Port of Longview for $135,000 a year for 30 years, according to court documents.

The union says its contract with the port gives it exclusive jurisdiction over dock jobs at the port. The Port of Longview says EGT must use the union's members. EGT disagrees. It says its contract with the port doesn't specify any obligation to use union labor, much less mandate the use of ILWU members.

EGT first hired nonunion workers to staff the terminal, but then hired a contractor whose workers are members of the Operating Engineers Local 701 in Portland. It filed suit in federal court Jan. 12 in an effort to clarify whether the lease required it to hire the ILWU.

Rather than wait for this dispute to play out in court, and not satisfied with trying to win public support through peaceful picketing outside the facility, ILWU members have engaged in what the union and its supporters have charitably described as militant actions to press home their point. We call it thuggery.

Tensions have run high at the terminal all summer. The ILWU has maintained a picket, and was pretty vocal when nonunion workers entered the facility. They've not had much in the way of kind words for the members of Local 701, either. As the members of ILWU escalated their efforts to disrupt the terminal's operation, the National Labor Relations Board sought and received a federal court order to curtail the union's "aggressive" actions.

On Sept. 7, union protesters blocked a train carrying a grain shipment to the terminal, and clashed with police trying to clear the tracks. Early the next morning as many as 600 Longshoremen stormed the facility, tore down a fence, vandalized rail cars, dumped grain and assaulted company guards.

U.S. District Judge Robert Leighton on Sept. 15 found ILWU Locals 4 and 21 in civil contempt, saying there was no defense for their actions. That puts it mildly.

We don't know which side will win on the merits of the case. We don't care. Our only interest is that shipments of grain grown by U.S. farmers be allowed to reach the terminal, be loaded onto ships and sent to its destination overseas.

We don't much care for the idea that any group, union or otherwise, has an exclusive right to jobs brought to the port by private businesses. We think a business should be free to hire who it wants, and that those employees should then be free to unionize if they so choose. But, even a bad deal is a deal. If the port has signed an exclusive bargain with the ILWU and hiring ILWU members is a provision of its lease, then EGT will have to honor the pact.

That's an issue that must be decided by the federal court, not by the mob.

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