Longshoremen ratify agreement, resume work at key northwest export terminals

By Sara Wyant

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VANCOUVER, WA., August 26, 2014 - After almost two years of controversial contract negotiations which threatened the stability of U.S. agricultural exports, the longshoremen who load grain here have voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with several grain companies and will return to work on Wednesday. A tentative agreement was reached August 12th.

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The vote included members of ILWU Local 8 in Portland, Ore., and Local 4 in Vancouver, Local 21 in Longview, Local 19 in Seattle, and Local 23 in Tacoma, Wash., who collectively voted 88.4% in favor of a tentative agreement with Louis Dreyfus Commodities, United Grain Corporation and Columbia Grain Inc. that will be in effect until May 31, 2018. Members voting in favor totaled 1,475; those voting against numbered 193.

“This new collective bargaining agreement is welcome news for the workers and the three grain facilities that are part of the Northwest Grain Agreement. It is also great news for Washington's internationally acclaimed grain industry,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee in a statement.

“I am grateful that the lockout's disruption to the marketplace was kept to a minimum and that for most of those 18 months state grain inspections continued. I understand that both sides compromised in this new agreement and I want to thank them for going back to the table to negotiate in good faith and find an agreement to bring stability to our grain export industry and allow terminal operators to remain competitive.”

Negotiations for the new agreement began in August of 2012, involved 70 separate sessions, and included lockouts at Portland's Columbia Grain and Vancouver's United Grain facilities. At times, USDA discontinued grain inspections because of what the agency described as security concerns, essentially shutting down outbound shipments.

Terms of the agreement include work rule changes and wage increases over the life of the agreement.

According to the ILWU, “bargaining was difficult, but in the end, both sides compromised significantly from their original positions, resulting in a workable collective bargaining agreement that preserves the work of the ILWU-represented workforce and fosters stability for the export grain industry.”

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