PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - Twelve longshoremen’s union protesters were arrested on Wednesday for trying to block a train from entering a grain terminal in Washington state as labor tensions flared again at the Port of Longview.
Ten of the demonstrators, including the wives and mothers of some port workers, were detained on charges of criminal trespass and obstructing a train, said Jerusha Kasch, a spokeswoman for the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office.
Among those 10 was Dan Coffman, president of the International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 21, the union said.
Two more protesters who scuffled with police were pepper-sprayed and arrested on a felony charge of assaulting a police officer, the union and police said.
One of those two also faced a felony harassment charge stemming from a September 16 confrontation at the port in which he was accused of threatening to sexually assault a family member of a deputy who was arresting another individual, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
ILWU Local 21 Vice President Jake Whiteside said the confrontation began after about a dozen protesters, nine of them women from the union’s “ladies auxiliary,” walked out onto the railroad tracks and sat down, prompting police to move in.
“The police were getting rough with an elderly lady they were arresting,” and two fellow demonstrators ended up getting pepper-sprayed when they intervened and “let their emotions get the best of them,” Whiteside said.
The months-long dispute between the ILWU and terminal operator EGT LLC -- a joint venture of Bunge Ltd, ITOCHU International Inc and STX Pan Ocean Inc -- grew out of the company’s plan to hire workers from a different union to staff its newly built Longview grain terminal.
The ILWU maintains that only workers it represents can be hired at Longview under a larger labor agreement it has with the overall port, located in southwestern Washington near the Columbia River about 40 miles north of Portland, Oregon.
Union spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said more is at stake than the 50 some jobs at the center of the dispute.
“They (EGT) got a sweetheart deal, tax-wise, from the local community, and then they imported workers from other countries and other areas to do the work at the facility,” she said.
The train the protesters tried to block carried 110 cars full of wheat from central Washington destined for export to Asia, EGT’s chief executive, Larry Clarke, said in a statement.
“The ILWU’s actions are in direct defiance of the law and the ruling of a federal judge,” Clarke said. “We appreciate the continuing efforts of local law enforcement to ensure the safety of workers and businesses at the port and allow commerce to proceed.”
Several longshoremen were arrested after clashing with police and blocking a train arriving at the facility on September 7. And more than 500 port workers stormed the new EGT grain terminal the following day, damaging rail cars and property, Longview police said.
Later that day, a federal judge in Tacoma, Washington, issued a preliminary injunction ordering a halt to such actions by union members. The injunction effectively extended a 10-day temporary restraining order granted previously at the request of the National Labor Relations Board.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton