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Pacific Northwest longshore workers reject cutbacks

By Cheryl LaBash

January 4, 2013

International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals in the Pacific Northwest continue to work at terminals owned by the Grain Handlers Association after three out of four terminal owners imposed the agri-bosses highly concessionary “last, best and final” offer on Dec. 27. By nearly 94 percent, ILWU members rejected that package, which the ILWU reports demanded “more than 750 changes to a contract that’s made the industry successful for the past 80 years.”

Clearly this is a temporary situation. Nearly 3,000 ILWU members work at grain terminals in Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., owned by the huge conglomerates that profit from and control the food supply trade of the world.

One of the richest terminal owners, the CHS/Cargill joint venture TEMCO, split from the Grain Handlers Association to continue negotiations with ILWU and extend the terms of the old contract, which expired on Sept. 30. Ft.com reported the U.S. farming cooperative CHS’ net profits exceeded that of its TEMCO partner, Cargill, as well as that of terminal owners Louis Dreyfus and Bunge.

International agribusiness giant Bunge is the major partner in the highly automated Export Grain Terminal in Longview, Wash. Bunge’s profits doubled in the quarter ending Sept. 30.

The EGT contract accepted by the ILWU International last year — while spurning a massive Occupy and labor solidarity mobilization poised to join the fight — set the concession pattern the ILWU is now fighting.

Grain Handler Association members have hired the Gettier scab-herding corporate security firm in an attempt to strong-arm longshore workers in case of a lockout or strike. But a militant mood is building among workers in the global supply chain.

Long-suffering ILWU clerks struck last month, closing the Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., docks for eight days. Warehouse workers and Walmart workers walked off their jobs to demand better conditions. And international solidarity pickets in Newark, N.J., and Charleston, S.C., challenged goods shipped from the clothing factory in Bangladesh where mostly women workers died in a fire on Nov. 24.

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UPDATED Jan 5, 2013 1:58 PM
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