More than 200 union members and supporters were arrested in the course of protests during the eight-month battle in which the cops, courts and government sided against the Longshore workers. Three still face trumped-up felony charges.
EGT had refused to hire members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in violation of an agreement between the ILWU and the Port of Longview, which is run by the city government. The company had instead hired members of Operating Engineers Union Local 701 at inferior wages without a contract through the General Construction company. In January, EGT agreed to hire the ILWU members who today work in the terminal.
Members of ILWU Local 21 and their supporters organized protests at the railroad tracks leading to EGT’s grain terminal from July through September. During this time, cops, doing the bidding of EGT, arrested demonstrators on a range of charges, including trespass, assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Meanwhile, the city government piled up fines against the ILWU.
Unionists say they were often arrested, in rough and physically abusive fashion, outside the protests—during the middle of the night in their homes, on picket duty, while driving, and outside church. In response to the cops’ anti-labor campaign, some 200 unionists marched to the local police department Sept. 16 demanding they be arrested then and there as a group. The police refused.
Scores of union militants have been cleared of charges. In many cases, prosecutors have dangled plea bargain deals, pressing for guilty pleas in exchange for sentences substantially lower than the union stalwarts would risk having imposed if convicted by trial.
Shelly Porter and Alison Beam were cleared of trespass charges Jan. 23. “I knew I could prove I never stepped on EGT property except when forced to by police order to ‘move over here now,’ which can be seen on video,” Porter told the Militant in a February interview. “When the prosecutor learned we were not accepting the plea bargain deal, he concluded he had no case.”
A half dozen workers have been acquitted in trials. Among them, Porter was found not guilty of assaulting an EGT official. She had pushed away the boss’s hand when he put his cell phone camera in her face to take a photo during a July 22 union protest.
Byron Jacobs, 28, secretary treasurer of ILWU Local 21, was charged with three felony counts of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and intimidating a public official, and three charges of criminal misdemeanors, including trespass and blocking a train.
The trumped-up charges stem from a peaceful protest on Sept. 21. That day members of the union’s Ladies Auxiliary and Local 21 President Dan Coffman sat down on the railroad tracks near EGT holding union signs to protest a train car on its way to be unloaded by non-ILWU labor at EGT’s terminal.
Jacobs along with Kelly Muller were on the sidelines videotaping the protest. Jacobs told the Militant what happened next. “Without warning, the cops from four agencies swarmed on the women and Dan and tore their picket signs out of their hands and yanked their arms behind them to handcuff them. They pushed some of the women down on the ground. They wrenched Phoebe Wiest’s arm so violently that she went to the hospital with a torn rotator cuff. They pulled Dan Coffman to his feet by his thumbs. My wife was among those the cops were going after. Phoebe Wiest yelled in pain.
“Kelly and I shouted at the police over and over to stop hurting the women. Then we rushed to their side. We were tackled by several cops. They pushed us to the ground and handcuffed us. They put a choke hold on me and I passed out briefly. Then I came to and saw a cop bringing a canister toward my face. They held open my eyelids and pepper sprayed me in each eye. They did the same to Kelly. Then the cops dragged us to the road. At some point emergency medical technicians from the Fire Department were on the scene and squirted water in our eyes. Then the cops took us to jail. We were later charged with assaulting the cops.”
The Sept. 21 police assault as described by Jacobs is documented in videos posted on YouTube.com.
In order to avoid the possibility of felony convictions, which for assault carries a sentence of at least one year and a $5,000 fine, Jacobs agreed on March 19 to plead guilty to three misdemeanor charges, including one count of misdemeanor assault, one count of obstructing a train and one count of criminal trespass. The felony assault and other felony charges were dropped. Jacobs will have to serve 20 days in jail; pay $500 in court costs; serve one year of probation and attend an “anger management” assessment. He began serving his sentence on March 24.
Jacobs’ application for work release was denied on the grounds that longshore work is irregular and requires leaving town. Jacobs said the union will assist his family while he is in jail.
“I feel like there is right and there is wrong,” Jacobs told the Militant. “What I did was to stand up for what I believe in during a labor dispute. What Kelly and I did on Sept. 21 resulted in harm to no one but ourselves. The plea agreement doesn’t change my mind. This was the best scenario for me to move forward.”
Felony trials are still pending on charges against three other union members. William “Sonny” Halladay, Ronald Stavas and Conner McLeod. Stavas’ and McLeod’s charges come from a Sept. 8 protest at the port.
Halladay’s charges also stem from the Sept. 21 protest. On that day Halladay was at work at the terminal operating a log loader on the other side of a fence from where the train was stopped and the ILWU protest was taking place. He raised his log load up high at one point to get an unobstructed view of the ground, a common practice for that job. For this he was charged with endangering the safety of a train and “assault with a deadly weapon” (the log loader). The prosecution claims he was threatening to drop his load on the train.
“There was no way he was going to drop logs on the train,” said Jacobs. “Union people were protesting there.”
Prosecutor Sue Baur said she waited five months to bring charges against Halladay because the investigation had to be coordinated with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which has its own private cops. The BNSF cops along with Cowlitz County and Thurston County sheriff’s department deputies and Longview police all took part in a coordinated assault on the union protest.
Coffman and Muller also pled guilty to trespassing charges stemming from Sept. 21 and other protests. Both were sentenced with fines and community service.
The ILWU filed a federal suit Sept. 22 charging cops with violating their civil rights, forcing them to back off. That trial has now been set for March 4, 2013, a year away. The lawsuit names Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson and Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha, as well as the county and city.
On the Picket Line
1 worker killed, 2 injured at NY construction site
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