The International Longshore Workers Union is accusing Mitsui's United Grain Corp. of fabricating a story about an ILWU member sabotaging equipment at its grain export terminal in Vancouver Wash., to lock workers out.
Earlier this week, United Grain Corp fired an employee it believes vandalized equipment in December and had its lawyer send a letter to the union announcing the lockout
. It has also released a summary of an investigator's report about the alleged sabotage of two pieces of equipment at its terminal in December.
The ILWU said Thursday "Mitsui’s United Grain Corp. (UGC) accused a single union worker of damaging equipment – based on hidden evidence that has never been shown to the union or the accused – in order to justify its unlawful and aggressive lockout of its entire Local 4 represented work force.
"Mitsui-United Grain has fabricated a story as an excuse to do what they’ve wanted to do all along, which is to lock workers out instead of reach a fair agreement with them,” the ILWU said.
"If Mitsui-United Grain had legitimate concerns about safety or equipment,
or especially the conduct of an employee, they would have come to us at
the bargaining table. Instead this corporation has chosen to lock out
its entire workforce – a blatant example of guilt by association, and a
violation of U.S. labor law,” said Rich Austin Jr., Seattle-based
co-negotiating chairman for the union.
The union said "In November, several
multinational grain corporations operating in the Pacific Northwest
including Mitsui-United Grain gave ILWU workers a final offer that
demanded deep concessions, even though the companies have been
successful under the longstanding agreement and impasse had not been
reached in negotiations."
United Grain responded by saying “We strongly disagree with union's claim that UGC has violated labor law by implementing its lockout. In light of the clear evidence of deliberate sabotage by an elected leader of ILWU Local 4, we took the steps necessary to protect the safety and security of our employees and facilities. As of this morning the union has not filed any claim with the National Labor Relations Board. When and if it does, we're confident the agency's investigation will show our actions have been both legal and prudent.”
A company spokesman said Thursday afternoon the union has not asked to see the evidence of the alleged sabotage, which the company said it has forwarded to various law enforcement authorities.
ILWU members have been trying to come to agreement on a new contract since last year. UGC and other grain terminals that belong to a group called the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers are seeking contracts that would give them more flexibility in how they deploy workers.
They say that the ILWU has signed contracts with their competitors, EGT and Kalama Export, that give those two terminals an advantage, and they want terms that will allow them to compete more equally with those two trminals
UGC continued to unload a barge and load a ship with non-union employees on Thursday, said spokesman Pat McCormick. The facility normally employs between eight and 22 ILWU workers on each of its two shifts. - Chris Dupin