Although members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) voted last week overwhelmingly to reject the "last, best, and final contract" offer of three companies operating grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest, the employers say they will begin implementing the terms of that offer.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, the three companies - United Grain, Columbia Grain and Louis Dreyfus - said they will not lock out the union and "ILWU members are welcome to come to work under the new terms and conditions of employment."
In response, the union said its members "intend to continue working despite the substandard provisions of the employer's last offer. We are reviewing the multinational employer's letter and we're disappointed that they haven't accepted the union's invitation to continue negotiating to reach a fair agreement with local workers."
The three grain companies, which between them operate four of the nine grain terminals on Puget Sound and the Columbia River, said employers have "the right to unilaterally implement the terms of its last, best and final offer" without the union's agreement.
It's not clear what will happen next - the employers released a background statement which noted that under such conditions a union could accept the new terms and enter into a new collective bargaining agreement, call a strike, or have members continue to work while seeking further bargaining.
The companies noted, however, "there also are times when an employer feels compelled to implement a 'defensive' lockout in order to protect its operations."
That might happen if the union engages in intermittent strike activity so that the employer cannot predict when represented employees will come to work, if employees engage in a “partial strike,” refusing to perform some of their assigned duties, or if employees "report for work, but engage in other unlawful activity such as slowdowns or sabotage that damage the employer’s operation."
The three companies said the major issue during negotiations has been workplace rules, and the ILWU has chosen to give two major competitors on the Columbia River - Export Grain Terminal (EGT) and Kalama Export - a better deal when it comes to certain working conditions. - Chris Dupin