With wheat harvest in progress, growers fear disruptions
By STEVE BROWN
Two people were arrested Sept. 12 in connection with labor-related violence at the new EGT LLC grain terminal in Longview, Wash.
Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Ronald Patrick Stavas, 45, of Kelso, and charged him with first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, intimidating a witness and sabotage in connection with the incident in which union supporters entered the facility, assaulted a guard and vandalized rail cars on Sept. 8.
Also arrested was Shelly Ann Porter, 39, of Longview. She was booked on the misdemeanor charge of second-degree criminal trespass in connection with blocking a grain train on Sept. 7.
Sheriff Mark Nelson said the investigation is continuing.
With the Northwest wheat harvest in high gear, the labor dispute at EGT takes on added urgency, industry officials said.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union stormed a guardhouse Sept. 8 because another union's members were working at the port. Other ILWU members walked off the job at four Washington state ports in solidarity.
"We've got a big crop coming up, and 85 percent of our crop is exported," said Tom Mick, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission. "If we lose our reputation as a reliable supplier, we could lose millions and millions of dollars."
Most of the wheat from Washington growers goes through the ports of Portland and Kalama, communications director Scott Yates said.
The union members are protesting the decision by EGT to use workers who belong to a different union, the Portland-based Operating Engineers Local 701.
"We never agreed to use ILWU labor," Larry Clarke, EGT's chief executive officer, said at a grain shippers' conference in August.
"This is a new wrinkle -- union against union -- and they're taking it out on the terminal," Mick said.
His commission is not involved in the dispute, he said. "We just have to sit back and hope for the best."
After the incident, U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton issued a preliminary injunction to restrict union activity, saying there was no defense for the violence.
Leighton said the ILWU clearly ignored a temporary restraining order he issued previously with similar limits. He scheduled a hearing for Sept. 15 -- after the Capital Press deadline -- to determine whether the union should be held in civil contempt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.