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Grain loading deal reached

Dock workers and a major grain company in Vancouver have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, clearing the way for smooth shipments of grain as the wheat harvest gets underway and removing a bone of contention between some legislative Republicans and Gov. Jay Inslee.

The AP report on the agreement can be found inside the blog. A bit of back story: In the midst of the labor dispute, United Grain imposed a lockout in February 2013 after saying a union worker had sabotaged company equipment. The longshoremen set up picket lines. Federal and state grain inspectors, who must check the wheat before it was shipped, were hesitant to cross the line. 

Last October, the Washington State Patrol began escorting inspectors into the facility, saying he hoped this would lead to a settlement. Last month Inslee said he was cancelling the escorts because no progress had been made, and he hoped the change would bring both sides back to the bargaining table and lead to an agreement.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, filed an ethics complaint in last July against Inslee with the Executive Ethics Board, contending the governor was failing to protect public employees and “using his office to unfairly benefit his political allies.” The board dropped the complaint last week, saying the governor's actions didn't appear to violate the state Ethics in Public Service Act and the board didn't have jurisdiction over the matter.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, welcomed the agreement, saying in a prepared statement he was “glad cooler heads prevailed and these two parties were able to reach an agreement.”

Inslee released a statement calling the agreement “outstanding news” and notified United Grain Company that state grain inspectors will resume inspections immediately. 


By STEVEN DUBOIS

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced a tentative agreement in the contentious two-year labor dispute at Northwest grain terminals.

The agency in Washington, D.C., says the agreement was reached just before midnight Monday in talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Northwest grain companies.

The agency says the union will recommend the agreement to its members for ratification.

If approved, the agreement should ensure that U.S. grain exports will proceed without disruption as harvest approaches.

An ILWU spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the grain companies, said he needed to be briefed on the deal before making a statement.

More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports move through nine grain terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound. The contract dispute initially involved six of those terminals that operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the ILWU: United Grain, based in Vancouver, Washington; Columbia Grain, based in Portland; Louis Dreyfus Commodities, which has grain elevators in Portland and Seattle; and Temco, which has elevators in Portland and Tacoma, Washington.

Temco broke away from the alliance in early December 2012 and negotiated separately with the union.

United Grain, which has the largest storage capacity of any West Coast grain export facility, imposed a lockout in February 2013 after saying a worker represented by the ILWU sabotaged company equipment. Columbia Grain Inc. followed suit with a lockout that began in May 2013.

The agreement comes shortly after U.S. Department of Agriculture grain inspectors refused to walk past picket lines into the United Grain terminal.

The action was taken shortly after state grain inspectors stopped entering the terminal, because of picketing longshoremen.

Federal law requires inspections for grain exports, so the refusal to cross the picket line crippled shipments from that terminal and put pressure on the owner to reach a deal.

The two-year labor dispute was primarily about workplace rules, not money. The grain companies said throughout that they are at a competitive disadvantage because the longshoremen at their terminals had more favorable rules than those in the Washington cities of Kalama and Longview.

What was agreed to late Monday has not been divulged. Early contract offers from the grain handlers would have taken away some perks and grievance procedures. Other concessions include letting employers go to court to end work stoppages immediately and allowing supervisors to perform work during health-and-safety disputes. 


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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