Grain shippers expect to reach deal with dockworkers, avoid interruptions with EGT concession
Grain shippers expect to reach deal with dockworkers, avoid interruptions with EGT concessions
Grain shippers expect to reach deal with dockworkers, avoid interruptions
Group includes firm at the Port of Vancouver
By Aaron Corvin
Columbian Staff Reporter
Monday, September 10, 2012group representing grain shippers in the region, including United Grain Corp. at the Port of Vancouver, said Monday it expects to reach an agreement on a new labor contract with union dockworkers that will keep wheat, soybeans and corn flowing to markets.
"I don't think there's any reason to presume otherwise," said Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, a consortium of six Northwest grain shippers that operates under an agreement with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
The talks between the grain shippers group and ILWU have garnered attention, in part, because of separate contracts hammered out between employers and union members at shipping terminals in Longview and Kalama.
In Longview, Export Grain Terminal signed a contract with the local longshore union that ended a tumultuous labor dispute. Kalama Export Company operates a terminal at the Port of Kalama.
In both of those cases, the new labor contracts include concessions that favor the employers. In Longview, for example, the concessions enable EGT to seek damages for work stoppages, according to a report in The Oregonian.
The concessions haven't been lost on the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.
The group says in a statement that while "longshoremen's hourly compensation in the EGT contract is comparable to ILWU's contract" with the Grain Handlers Association, "workplace rules in the EGT contract are much more advantageous to EGT" than the rules the association's terminals operate under.
Likewise, the ILWU's contract with Kalama Export Company "also includes advantageous workplace rules that don't apply" at Grain Handlers Association terminals. The Grain Handlers Association's statements suggest they would like to broaden those workplace rules to other terminals they are involved with.
"Leveling the playing field and avoiding extreme competitive disparities among Northwest grain shippers and ports is vital," according to the association's statement.
The association's statement also says it's "committed to bargaining in good faith with ILWU," noting its companies have employed ILWU members to help operate their terminals for more than 50 years.
The Grain Handlers Association's current contract with the ILWU expires Sept. 30. Both parties recently entered into negotiations to hash out a new one.
Brad Clark, president of the ILWU Local No. 4 in Vancouver, declined to comment Monday, saying it wouldn't be prudent during negotiations. "It's better faith bargaining to leave it at the table," he said.
The ILWU Local No. 4 has 192 registered longshore workers with an average total income of $100,669, according to the Pacific Maritime Association's 2011 annual report.
Theresa Wagner, communications manager for the Port of Vancouver, said the port is neutral and not a participant in the negotiations.
The ILWU is "an important part of what makes the port work," she said, and United Grain Corp. "is an important tenant."
The port hopes the parties involved resolve the contract talks "quickly and amicably," she said.
About 16 percent of U.S. wheat exports move across Port of Vancouver docks. Last year, the port handled a total of 5.6 million tons of cargo. Wheat was about 64 percent, or 3.6 million tons, of that total.
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