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Labor Tensions Threaten Pacific Northwest Grain Shipments

Pacific Northwest Grain Shipping negotiations expected to continue; stakeholders fear disruption in grain handling, shipping to Asian markets

Published on: Dec 27, 2012

Labor tensions between workers at six major shipping terminals in the Pacific Northwest and the four grain companies that operate the terminals continued this week after workers on Monday voted down the grain industry's "last, best and final" contract proposal.

The latest proposal was filed Nov. 16. Negotiations first began in August in anticipation of the September expiration of an 80-year-old collective bargaining contract.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents the workers, says Locals 4, 8, 19 and 23 – nearly 3,000 workers in total – are involved in the negotiations. The union contends that grain exporters are requesting nearly 750 concessions from dockworkers.

Pacific Northwest Grain Shipping negotiations expected to continue; stakeholders fear disruption in grain handling, shipping to Asian markets
Pacific Northwest Grain Shipping negotiations expected to continue; stakeholders fear disruption in grain handling, shipping to Asian markets

A vote early this week resulted in 94% of workers voting down the proposed agreement. Leal Sundet, Coast Committeeman for the ILWU, said the latest vote signaled workers' desire to bargain.

"The Grain exporters have not bargained in good faith, instead rejecting every effort by the Union to reach a compromised settlement. In essence, their 'last and final' offer was not fundamentally different than that originally presented in September," Sundet said.

On Wednesday, the owners of the grain companies said they would implement the terms of the final contract offer instead of a lock out.

Companies first involved in the negotiations include Japan-based Marubeni Corp., Japan-based Mitsui & Co., Amsterdam-based Louis Dreyfus Commodities and U.S.-based Cargill and CHS, AP reports, however they note that Cargill and CHS have broken away from the other companies to bargain separately.

According to the USDA Federal Grain Inspection Service, more than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports and half of U.S. wheat exports move through the affected terminals near the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

Most commodities shipped from Northwest ports are destined for Asian markets such as Korea, Japan and China.