Unionized Longshoreman Revolt: Guards Held Hostage, Reports of Strike

Damaged railroad cars. Smashed windows. Dumped grain. Delayed trains. Guards held hostage. This was the scene at the center of a labor dispute in Washington state Thursday involving hundreds of Longshoremen and a company that is using labor from outside the union.

Later in the morning, reports of a wildcat strike at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma were being investigated.

Here’s some background. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union believes it has the right to work at the facility, but the company, EGT, has hired a contractor that’s staffing a workforce of other union laborers. OPB News reported last month that the union said EGT was violating the port’s lease agreement gave Longshoremen the work. EGT — which broke ground on its facility two years ago — is working through General Construction, a contractor to bring in Operating Engineers, a different union. The questions over the lease are in federal court.

Union worker grabbed by the throat by Cowlitz County sheriff Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, while helping block a grain train from entering the Port of Longview, Wash. (Photo: AP/Don Ryan)

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said union officials are trying to sort out what is happening at the two Washington ports and were not sure on Thursday morning if the strike is related to union activity in Longview. The spokesman at union headquarters in San Francisco said it appears Longshoremen in Seattle and Tacoma have taken action on their own, the Associated Press reported. Merrilees did not know how many workers are involved and to what extent the apparent wildcat action has spread.

Early Thursday, 500 Longshoremen broke down gates of the Port of Longview at about 4:30 a.m. and smashed windows in the guard shack, he said. Six guards were held hostage for a few hours.

No one was hurt, and nobody has been arrested. Most of the protesters returned to their union hall after cutting brake lines and spilling grain from car at the EGT terminal, Duscha said.

Thursday’s early morning violence was first reported by Kelso radio station KLOG.

Police from several agencies in southwest Washington, the Washington State Patrol and Burlington Northern Santa Fe responded to the violence to secure the scene that followed a clash with police the day before.

Longshoreman blocks train on Wednesday. (Photo: AP/Don Ryan)

“We’re not surprised,” Duscha said. “A lot of the protesters were telling us this in only the start.”

On Wednesday, one sergeant was threatened with baseball bats and retreated, Duscha said. “One officer with hundreds of Longshoremen? He used the better part of discretion.”

The train was the first grain shipment to arrive at Longview. It arrived Wednesday night after police arrested 19 demonstrators who tried to block the tracks. They were led by ILWU International President Robert McEllrath, who said they would return.

Watch yesterday’s local CBS report on the demonstrators blocking the train:

The blockade appeared to defy a federal restraining order issued last week against the union after it was accused of assaults and death threats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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