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Oregon longshoremen reject contract offer

PORTLAND – Longshoremen at a half-dozen Pacific Northwest grain terminals have overwhelmingly rejected what owners describe as their “last, best and final” contract offer, increasing the odds of a post-holiday lockout.

Terminal owners, in a statement released Monday afternoon, said they were “disappointed” by the vote and were reviewing their options. They have replacement workers standing by to ensure grain exports to Asia.

“Regardless of the outcome, they remain committed to operating,” said Pat McCormick, spokesman for the consortium of owners known as the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, meanwhile, asked the owners to return to the bargaining table and offered negotiation dates.

“The men and women of the ILWU have voted to reject the profitable grain exporters’ concessionary demands, but we remain committed to reaching a fair agreement that continues our 80-year history of making these export terminals successful,” Rich Austin, co-chairman of the union negotiating committee, said in a statement.

Roughly 3,000 longshoremen were eligible to vote on the contract offer and 93.8 percent rejected it, a union spokeswoman said. The last collective bargaining agreement expired Sept. 30.

More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports and nearly half of U.S. wheat exports move through grain terminals on the Willamette River and Puget Sound. The dispute involves six of those terminals that operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the ILWU:

• Japan-based Marubeni Corp. (Columbia Grain in Portland);

• Japan-based Mitsui & Co. (United Grain in Vancouver, Wash.);

• Netherlands-based Louis Dreyfus Commodities (grain elevators in Seattle and Portland);

• United States-based Cargill and CHS Inc. (Temco elevators in Tacoma and Portland).

One of the four owners, the Cargill and CHS joint venture, has been omitted from recent Grain Handlers Association statements, including Monday’s, a signal it is negotiating separately with the union and will not be involved in a lockout. McCormick declined comment on that issue, as has Cargill spokesman Mark Klein.