The agreement clears the way for ILWU members to work inside the grain terminal after months of waging a fight against union busting. “Not all the details of the agreement are settled, but we believe we are moving in the right direction,” Byron Jacobs, secretary-treasurer of Local 21, told the Militant. “We have taken down our picket lines while reserving the right to reinstate them if final negotiations are not satisfactory.”
The union had maintained picket lines in front of EGT 24 hours a day since June to protest the company’s refusal to hire ILWU members in violation of an agreement between the union and the Port of Longview. Instead, EGT hired members of Operating Engineers Local 701 through a subcontractor at inferior wages and without a contract. If successful, it would have set a precedent with the first West Coast grain terminal run without ILWU labor in eight decades.
Meanwhile, the union is appealing more than $300,000 in fines levied by a federal judge for alleged damages incurred during union protests at the port. And many union members still face court hearings and trials for trumped-up charges.
More than 200 union members or supporters were arrested in the course of protests against EGT, and scores were cited with criminal charges.
Local 21 members Shelly Porter and Alison Beam were both cleared of trespass charges Jan. 23. They refused an offer to plead “guilty” in exchange for dropping two other charges “without prejudice,” meaning they could have been refiled later at the prosecutor’s discretion.
“I knew I could prove I never stepped on EGT property except when forced to by police orders to ‘move over here now,’ which can be seen on video,” Porter told the Militant. “When the prosecutor learned we were not accepting the plea bargain deal he conceded he had no case.”
This is the third set of charges Porter has beaten. In recent weeks 18 unionists have been cleared of various frame-up charges.
“I didn’t really pay attention to the world before this fight and now I see other people are fighting everywhere,” said Porter. “There is so much more to do.”
Some Local 21 members have already been processed for hiring and reported to EGT for orientation Jan. 30-31. Some 25 to 35 union members will work as electricians and millwrights, and also perform work on the docks and in the terminal, according to Jacobs.
A Jan. 27 union statement explained the main points of the tentative agreement: The Port of Longview “approved an amendment to its lease with EGT agreeing that EGT is no longer bound by the Port’s Working Agreement with ILWU Local 21. In exchange, EGT agreed that the ILWU/PMA Joint Dispatch Hall (Local 21) shall provide the labor for EGT’s facility at the Port of Longview, and agreed to a union card check procedure. If a majority of workers indicate their preference to be represented by ILWU Local 21 at the EGT facility, EGT and ILWU Local 21 expect to negotiate the details of a labor agreement for all landside and shipside operations.”
Prior to the tentative agreement, the company had been planning to run a scab ship to load grain, backed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“As for the arrival of EGT grain ship, expected any day now, the union has no plans and no reason to protest the ship because it will be loaded by ILWU members,” Jacobs said in an interview at the union hall. “I call that a victory. Any others who plan to protest the arrival of the ship are on their own. The ILWU will not sanction any such protest.”
Jacobs presented a solidarity message signed by workers in a lighting factory in Queens, New York, that had just arrived by mail. “This means a lot to us,” he said. “It would not have been possible to win this fight without all the support we received worldwide.
“Our support started with our own retired members. When we had meetings for working members they took extra shifts at the picket tents. They prepared meals at the hall in the thick of our protests last summer. They accompanied our members to court hearings and trials. They raised funds for our fight.”
“In some unions when you retire, you’re out, you’re done,” said Bruce Wilcox, a retired member of Local 21 who worked on the docks for 41 years. “In the ILWU you’re never through. I come to the union hall one to three times a week to do whatever needs doing.”
“Our eyes are open to what is going on in the world besides here in Longview,” said Jacobs. “I’d like to say thank you to all who stood with us. We are planning a public ‘thank you’ celebration in March for all those who supported us in this fight.”
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