Thursday, September 8, 2011

Union "Flashmob" Thuggery - No Arrests? Why Not?

from the Seattle Times
Work is at a standstill at some Northwest seaports, including Seattle, as a long-simmering labor dispute turned violent Thursday morning.

At least 500 longshoremen stormed the Port of Longview about 4:30 a.m. and broke out windows in the guard shack, according to Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha. As longshoremen wielding baseball bats and crowbars held six guards hostage, others cut brake lines on box cars and dumped grain, according to Duscha.

Fifty police officers from Kelso, Longview, Cowlitz County, the Washington State Patrol, Woodland, Kalama and the Burlington Northern Railroad responded to the scene. No one was injured, and there were no arrests Thursday morning, Duscha said.

Roy San Filippo, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said the incident started Wednesday afternoon when police pepper-sprayed, struck longshoremen with clubs and "manhandled" ILWU President Robert McEllrath after the union members blocked a train on its way into the EGT Terminal at the Port of Longview. Police arrested 19 longshoremen on Wednesday.

"If he (McEllrath) was one of the crowd that surged forward, some of them were sprayed. When it's 400 against 20, what are you going to do?" Duscha said. He said he didn't know anything about reports that police had hit protesters with clubs.

When the longshoremen stormed the terminal Thursday morning, police were "not surprised," Duscha said. "A lot of the protesters were telling us this is only the start."

One police sergeant was threatened with a baseball bat and retreated, Duscha said. "One officer with hundreds of Longshoremen? He used the better part of discretion."

Reasons behind the dispute

There have been other incidents throughout the summer, police said, including the arrest of seven longshoremen in July for blocking a train, but San Filippo said Wednesday's incident sparked the wildcat walkout of Longshoremen at some Northwest ports and the destruction of property Thursday morning at the Longview port. Longshoremen were out Thursday at Anacortes, Tacoma, Everett and Seattle. Port spokesmen said they have no information about when Longshoremen may return to work.

Tensions between the ILWU and EGT Development, the owner of the new train superterminal, have run hot for the past few months after contract negotiations broke down. EGT, which is jointly owned by Korean, Japanese and U.S. investors, contracted with International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, based in Gladstone, Ore., to fill the 25 to 35 jobs at the terminal. But the Port of Longview has a contract for ILWU to do the work.

EGT sued the port in U.S. District Court in January seeking the right to pursue its own contract. EGT wants its own people — specially trained to work in the $200 million terminal and capable of unloading a 110-car train in less than four hours.

According to the lawsuit, "The lease did not impose any obligation whatsoever upon EGT to utilize union labor at the terminal, much less obligate EGT to utilize persons who are represented by Local 21 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union."

The Port of Longview disputes this, saying it had a working agreement with the union that EGT knew about when it began negotiating the lease in 2007.

"If you disagree, then we have a serious dispute" that needs to be addressed in court, wrote Port Executive Director Kenneth B. O'Hollaren in court documents.

"The Longshoremen are fighting for good middle class jobs at the grain handling terminal," San Fililppo said.

Union under a restraining order

A federal restraining order was issued against the Longshoremen last week because the union had made death threats and was accused of assaults, Duscha said

On Thursday, police remained at the terminal trying to assess the damage, Duscha said. After the protest, the Longshoremen returned to their union hall and set off fireworks, Duscha said.

At the union offices in Longview, the doors were locked and people who occasionally left the building declined to talk to reporters, though one complained of slanted media coverage.

"We held six people hostage? Come on," that man said.

The union is to appear Thursday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton in Tacoma for a hearing on a petition filed eight days ago by Richard Ahearn, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board. It alleges ILWU Locals 4 and 21 had targeted EGT officials, workers and contractors with increasingly violent unfair labor practices.

In one instance, Ahearn alleges union workers bombed the EGT terminal with a bag of manure from an airplane. It had signs attached saying "scabby 701," a reference to another local that was doing work on terminal construction.

Ahearn alleges the Longshoremen have "induced or encouraged individuals employed by EGT and other persons ... to refuse to handle or work on goods and/or refuse to perform services, and has threated, coerced, or restrained" the company and others, intending to force the company to employ its workers. The union has also been involved in a labor dispute with EGT's contractor, General Construction, according to the documents.

Already, Ahearn said, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has refused to deliver cargo to the EGT terminal because the union has refused to give assurances that it will not block the tracks.

The ILWU locals have been picketing the EGT grain terminal since July, according to the petition, which said that union workers have spit on, threatened and "verbally assaulted" EGT officials, blocked entrances, thrown eggs and knocked down signs at the terminal. In one instance, a shop steward for another local working at the terminal was assaulted and followed onto the freeway.

In seeking the injunction, Ahearn wrote "The threat of further unlawful conduct and property damage is tangible," saying local police stated — a week before Thursday's violence — that they "do not have the staff to control the pickets."

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