UPDATE 1-Union files unfair labor charge over United Grain lockout
* Union calls lockout at PNW grain terminal "extreme"
* Company says lockout justified, will cooperate with NLRB
By Karl Plume
March 5 (Reuters) - The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) filed an unfair labor practice charge against United Grain Corp (UGC) after its members were locked out of the company's Vancouver, Washington, grain export terminal last week.
The charge was filed with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board by ILWU Local 4 on Monday.
UGC, a unit of Japanese trading company Mitsui & Co , imposed the lockout on Feb. 27 after an investigator hired by the company concluded that an ILWU leader working at the facility intentionally damaged equipment there. UGC fired that employee and referred the matter to police. It also locked out all other ILWU-represented workers, citing concerns about further sabotage.
ILWU charged that the company "took the extreme measure of locking out its entire bargaining unit even though by its own statements it had identified and terminated the employee allegedly responsible for the property damage."
UGC called the complaint unfounded but said it would cooperate fully with the NLRB investigation.
"The National Labor Relations Board case law has recognized, for decades, an employer's right to lock out employees in response to incidents of sabotage like those that have occurred at United Grain Corporation," said spokesman Pat McCormick.
UGC has continued to operate the grain terminal since the lockout using management personnel and non-represented United Grain employees. They loaded one bulk grain vessel last week which departed on Sunday morning and another ship was expected to arrive this week, McCormick said, adding that all operations have been normal.
The union's NLRB complaint further escalated the tension between the ILWU and bulk grain exporters in the region.
A contract between the union and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, a collective negotiating group that includes UGC, Louis Dreyfus, Columbia grain and TEMCO, expired in September. The two parties were unable to come to a contract agreement so terminal operators late last year declared an impasse and imposed the terms of their final contract offer.
TEMCO said last week that it reached a tentative contract agreement with the ILWU on its own. ILWU-represented employees at the Columbia Grain facility and the two Dreyfus elevators continue to work under the company's final contract offer terms.
The region's nine export terminals are a critical outlet for U.S. grain exports. Nearly half of U.S. wheat exports and about a quarter of all U.S. grain and oilseed exports exit the country via the Pacific Northwest.