Longshoremen storm Washington port over labor dispute, hold guards, dump grain

by on September 8, 2011 · 20 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Labor, Popular

A crowd of union workers and supporters gather at a railroad crossing as a train passes through in Vancouver, Wash., Wednesday. (Don Ryan AP)

By NBC News / September 8, 2011

LONGVIEW, Wash. — Hundreds of Longshoremen stormed the Port of Longview early Thursday, overpowered and held security guards, damaged railroad cars, and dumped grain that is the center of a labor dispute, officials said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union dispute spread to Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Anacortes ports ahead of a court hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Tacoma, where a judge is expected to consider alleged union violations of a previous restraining order.

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath detained by law enforcement for standing with his members against multinational EGT in Longview, WA, September 7, 2011. Photo by ILWU Local 40 President Dawn Des Brisay

One possible factor in the wildcat strike was a photograph circulating on the Internet of ILWU President Bob McElrath in Longview police custody Wednesday after police arrested 19 protesters blocking rail tracks before the grain train arrived, said Craig Merrilees, union spokesman.

“I think in the minds of many members that may have been a motivating factor,” he said.

The ILWU believes it has the right to work at the facility, but the company has hired a contractor that’s staffing a workforce of laborers from the Portland-based Operating Engineers Local 701. Representatives of the engineers union did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

On Thursday, six guards were held hostage for a couple of hours after 500 or more Longshoremen broke down Longview gates about 4:30 a.m. PT (7:30 a.m. ET) and smashed windows in the guard shack, said Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha.

No one was hurt, and nobody has been arrested.

Most of the protesters returned to their union hall after cutting brake lines and spilling grain from car at the EGT Terminal, Duscha said.

 ‘Only the start’

Police from several agencies in southwest Washington, the Washington State Patrol and Burlington Northern Santa Fe responded to the scene.

“We’re not surprised,” Duscha said. “A lot of the protesters were telling us this is only the start.”  One sergeant was threatened with baseball bats and retreated, Duscha said.  “One officer with hundreds of Longshoremen? He used the better part of discretion,” he said.  The train was the first grain shipment to arrive at Longview.

A man stands near railroad tracks while a train moves forward as a crowd of union workers and supporters gather at a crossing in Vancouver, Wash. Wednesday.

The protesters in Longview have portrayed themselves as being on the front line in the struggle for jobs and benefits among American workers in an economic downturn. But while union strife has flared up around the country — most notably in Wisconsin — the aggressive tactics seen in Longview have been a rarity in recent labor disputes.

Labor activists insist that after receiving tax breaks and promising to create well-paying jobs at the new $200 million terminal, EGT initially tried to staff the terminal with nonunion workers. Following a series of protests by the Longshore workers this year, the company announced it would hire a contractor staffed by workers from a different union.

“Today, the ILWU took its criminal activity against EGT to an appalling level, including engaging in assault and significant property destruction,” the company’s chief executive, Larry Clarke, said in a written statement. “This type of violent attack at the export terminal has been condemned by a federal court, and we fully support prosecution of this criminal behavior to the fullest extent under the law.”

 ‘Importing low-wage workforce’

The Longview blockade appeared to defy a federal restraining order issued last week against the union after it was accused of assaults and death threats.

NBC-affiliate KGW reported Wednesday that the National Labor Relations Board had previously concluded that ILWU’s Local 21 had engaged in unfair labor practices.

The NLRB said that on July 25 union protesters had spit on vehicles of competing union workers and threatened them with death, KGW reported. Some workers at the plant were attacked, the NLRB said in a report.

ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent told KGW that the labor board’s description of events included untrue allegations.

“EGT took workers’ hard-earned tax dollars hand-over-fist to build their facility,” McEllrath said, according to KGW, “then they betrayed those same workers by importing a low-wage workforce from out of the region and left local people unemployed.”

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

The Bearded Obecian September 8, 2011 at 3:33 pm



Jim September 8, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Just another example of corp America greed.

ILWU Brothers Stand United


cahlo September 9, 2011 at 5:39 am

they should all be thrown in jail….


MaoTzu September 10, 2011 at 7:25 am

I agree all the Corporate goons should be jailed.


cahlo September 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm

no, just the idiots interfering with commerce and destroying other’s property…..


Allen Lewis September 9, 2011 at 8:41 am

When people get fed up with getting screwed at some point they will revolt. it’s happening in many countries today over there government screwing them. So to you cahlo I think the people that are doing the screwing should be locked up.


Frank Gormlie September 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm



cahlo September 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm

so you condone the illegal actions of the workers?


Jerry September 9, 2011 at 8:53 am

Holding guards hostage is extremely serious, and vandalizing equipment is also serious. The Union obviously feel they have a grievance, but this is no way to resolve an issue. I would venture a guess that the Judge, based on these violations and the violation of a restraining order, will really be angry and will hit them with severe penalties and jail time.


brett September 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm

No guards were taken hostage. Just another ignorant response to something you know nothing about. When you read a little article or see a small clip on the news about something, don’t pretend like you know the facts. It makes you look really dumb….


Jerry September 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm

What is your source of information? Perhaps you should state you source(s) before resorting to calling people dumb. Not only was it stated in this article but it was also reported by the AP and numerous radio stations. One guy is being held on $50,000 bail for retaining a guard against his will, beating him – or second degree assault, and damaging property. I’ll await your reply…if you have one.


Allen Lewis September 9, 2011 at 8:57 am

P.S. I’m not sure who did this story, but a lot of the facts are missing about the breach of contract and that lead to these people being pushed over the edge.


Karen September 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Wisconsin says Go Go Go! Solidarity!


Allen Lewis September 10, 2011 at 10:04 am

Chloe,take a look at the past conflicts between strong Corporate government back leaders and the people that just wanting to work for a fair wage, who had the guns, and who got shot? just remember know one was hurt. I think you need to watch the movie clip on this page, upper right conner.


The Bearded Obecian September 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm

You’re right. What’s a little hostage taking since no one got hurt? Who cares if these thugs threatened innocent people right? They have a point to make after all. Maybe more of us should do the same when things don’t go our way; Like say at a bank when they won’t approve a loan. Or does it only apply to union members?


Allen Lewis September 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I wan’t to start by saying if this story was put together better and all the facts were posted the people who read this rag would have a better understanding of why these hard working people went postal, it’s bad journalism not to cover both sides. To you Mr. the Bearded Obecian, your comment comparing things not going your way, and the part about a bank loan shows me just how little you know about both sides of this very sad corse of events. I grew up in OB in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s, I know about protesting. I know live in Anchorets Wa. and I do have the facts about this protest in order. A contracted was ordered but the Corporate heads decided to disregard it. I do not condone violence, but when people are loosing there income, homes and families and there at there wits end then it’s taken to the streets.


Allen Lewis September 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

This took place on friday… KELSO, Wash. (AP) — About 200 Longshore workers involved in a hostile labor dispute in Washington state gathered at a courthouse on Friday, challenging the sheriff to peacefully arrest anyone in the crowd accused of committing a crime.
“We’re here. If you want us, come and get us,” shouted ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman, looking up at the building. Union members cheered his declaration but largely stood quietly in two long lines.
No law enforcement officers approached the crowd, and nobody was arrested during the demonstration. After about 30 minutes, Coffman led the group away and said he hoped they could live their lives without fear of confrontation from authorities.
But later in the day, authorities arrested ILWU Local 21 Vice President Jake Whiteside, said Grover Laseke, a spokesman for the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office. He was charged with criminal trespass in 2nd degree and obstructing a train in connection with a massive protest that blocked a train in Longview last week.


Allen Lewis September 19, 2011 at 8:09 pm

This is a prime example of why our legal system is the way it is.. but you have it backwards! Tax dollars should be used to fight real crime and real criminals. Not a union who is trying to protect their future and the future of all middle class workers. They are only portrayed as thugs because EGT is trying to cover up their illegal tactics. I think hit & run is a much bigger crime then protesting on port property. The reason our government & country is the way it is today is because of big companies like egt who are coming in, using foreign labor and sending all their money over seas. They got a tax break from the state of washington, promised to obey the port of longviews contract with ILWU. When their facility was built (using foreign workers not local workers like they promised) they refused to obey the contract. That is part of what EGT is trying to hide from the public. Just remember stories of violence are going to sell better than the truth.


Jerry September 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I was a union member for over 3 decades before loosing my job so I can relate to many things you are saying. I saw greed and corruption on both sides of the isle, corporations and in the different locals. We had union and management people that were worthless, and would not put in a days work in a month’s time. I still believe in collective bargaining but the unions only hurt themselves when they loose control and reportedly break the law. The place to win is in the courts, and I would fault poor leadership in this instance for this mess. They made a bad situation even worse and they hurt their membership.


Allen Lewis September 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Yes Jerry I do agree with you, it’s a real mess.


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