By Karl Plume
Feb 27 (Reuters) - United Grain Corp (UGC) on Wednesday
locked out union workers from its Port of Vancouver grain export
terminal in the U.S. Pacific Northwest after an investigation
unearthed evidence that a union leader sabotaged equipment
there, a spokesman for the grain company said.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)
disputed the charge and said the lockout was a response to the
union's recent contract agreement with a competing grain
UGC, a subsidiary of Japanese trading company Mitsui, has
terminated the employee and intends to continue operating with
management personnel and replacement workers, said Pat
McCormick, a spokesman representing UGC and several other grain
companies in the region.
An investigator hired by UGC concluded, based on video
surveillance and other evidence, that an ILWU Local 4 leader
intentionally sabotaged equipment resulting in $105,000 in
damages, the spokesman said.
"Deliberate attempts by an ILWU leader to damage equipment,
disrupt operations and put coworkers at risk cannot be
tolerated," Gary Schuld, president and chief executive officer
of UGC said.
"We cannot risk further vandalism that might disrupt safety
or impede operations. Therefore this morning we notified the
union of our intention to operate the terminal without ILWU
labor," he said.
UGC turned over the evidence and the investigator's report
to law enforcement and will consider criminal prosecution,
It was unclear how many workers were affected by the lockout
as the size of the workforce depends on operational needs. An
annual report from the Pacific Maritime Association, a group
representing shippers and terminal operators, said ILWU Local 4
has about 190 registered members, McCormick said.
The alleged incidents and resulting lockout were the latest
development in a heated battle between the union and the Pacific
Northwest Grain Handlers Association, a coalition of grain
companies in the region.
After an ILWU contract with the terminals expired late last
year and a federally appointed mediator failed to bring the two
parties to an agreement, most of the grain companies in the
coalition declared talks at an impasse and imposed their "last,
best and final" contract offer terms.
Union members have worked under those terms while the union
disputed the companies' declaration of impasse and filed an
unfair labor practice charge.
The ILWU claimed the lockout was a response to the union's
recent contract agreement with a competing grain company that
broke with the grain company coalition late last year.
"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," said Jennifer
Sargent, ILWU Coast Longshore Division communications director.
"It's no coincidence that Mitsui-United Grain has chosen to
throw out unfounded charges by an unnamed 'investigator' just
days after the union membership ratified an agreement with
Mitsui-United Grain's American competitors at Temco in Portland,
Kalama and Tacoma," she said.
About 25 percent of U.S. grain and oilseed exports are
shipped via the Pacific Northwest, the second-largest grain port
region after the U.S. Gulf Coast. It is also the most direct
shipping route for U.S. grains bound for Asia.
(Additional reporting by Christine Stebbins)
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