LONGVIEW, Wash. – Hundreds of union protesters clashed with police officers Wednesday in a tense standoff over a grain shipment at a port in Washington state.
At one point, police tried to arrest a small number of the union activists on railroad tracks in Longview, but the crowd surged and kept the officers at bay. The police retreated about 150 feet, and no arrests appeared to have been made.
A top union official later called off the protest that twice blocked the shipment to the Port of Longview. International Longshore and Warehouse Union International President Robert McEllrath told hundreds of supporters Wednesday evening that they were not backing down. He shouted at law enforcement officials that they would return.
The demonstrators are protesting a decision by the operator of the new EGT grain terminal to hire workers from a different union. The Longshore union believes it has a contractual right to the work.
About two dozen officers gathered nearby during the stalemate, with some wearing helmets and masks. Others videotaped the protesters, several of whom were hit with pepper spray during the police action, said Dan Coffman, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21.
The workers initially blocked the path of the northbound train as it tried to leave Vancouver, Wash., for the Port of Longview on Wednesday morning. Eventually they left and reassembled in Longview, where they again blocked the train in the afternoon.
The blockade appeared to defy a federal restraining order issued last week that prohibits the union from blocking entrance to the facility in Longview. A judge issued the order after federal officials alleged the protesters engaged in death threats and assaults.
EGT chief executive Larry Clarke called the blockade a blatant disregard for the law as spelled out by the judge.
Union officials said they were simply fighting for their jobs.