* Union calls lockout at PNW grain terminal "extreme"
* Company says lockout justified, will cooperate with NLRB
By Karl Plume
March 5 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
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.