Saying the longshore union's "illegal actions" shouldn't be rewarded or encouraged, the operating engineers union hired to run the EGT grain terminal has written the Cowlitz County commissioners to explain their side of the contentious jobs battle.
"ILWU's threats and harassment of our members must stop and must not be rewarded," reads a letter signed by Mark Holliday, business manager for the Gladstone, Ore.-based International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701. The union was hired by Federal Way-based contractor General Construction Co., in July to staff the EGT terminal. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 contends its members should get those jobs.
The letter, sent Oct. 5, states the operating engineers have a long history of working in the county and want to "clear up some of the false information and confusion" surrounding the EGT terminal jobs.
The ILWU claims EGT's contract with the Port of Longview guarantees the longshore union the grain terminal jobs. EGT and the operating engineers disagree. The dispute has led to a federal lawsuit, at-times violent protests and more than 200 arrests.
The letter to commissioners is an attempt to get the operating engineers' side of the story to local officials, Nelda Wilson, the union's assistant business manager, said Friday afternoon.
"We're just trying to clear up maybe some of the misinformation out there," she said. "For example, we keep hearing we're imported workers and we're not. We've been working in the community since the turn of the previous century."
The letter details operating engineer work dredging the Columbia and Cowlitz rivers, helping build the interstate highway system. It also states the union's members helped clean up and rebuild bridges and roads after the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, including Spirit Lake Memorial Highway to Johnston Ridge.
"We're not imported, we're not from some other country, it's not like we're from Guatemala," Wilson said.
Though based in Oregon, operating engineers Local 701 also has jurisdiction for Southwest Washington, and has more than 800 members in Clark and Cowlitz counties.
The letter mentions the ILWU's "illegal actions" several times as well as alleged harassment of the operating engineers workers at EGT.
"Our members receive threatening phone calls at 3 a.m., have been followed home, and had their cars beaten with picket signs by representatives of ILWU on a daily basis," the letter reads. It also notes a "shocking and disturbing list of actions" detailed in a federal National Labor Relations Board lawsuit against the ILWU.
Despite those sections, Wilson said the letter was not meant as an attack on the longshore union.
"We're not fighting," she said. "Throughout this ordeal we've advised our members to refrain from responding to prevent the situation from escalating. ... Our members stand behind our brothers and sisters and we're asking the same from their neighbors and elected politicians."
ILWU officials said Friday that their beef isn't with the operating engineers.
"Operating Engineers Local 701 and their employer, General Construction, is not an issue for the ILWU in this dispute," said Leal Sundet, ILWU coast committeeman. "The ILWU's dispute is directly with EGT."
Commissioner George Raiter said the county will keep the letter on file but added there's really nothing the commissioners can do about the dispute.
The only formal action commissioners have taken is to ask the federal judge handling the case to try and speed up the decision because they fear several more months of union protests. Commissioners Jim Misner and Mike Karnofski did say they supported the longshore workers earlier this summer, but they didn't take any formal vote.
Commissioners drafted a short letter thanking the operating engineers union for the correspondence but won't take any further action, Raiter said.
"We chose not to discuss (the letter) further because we thought it wouldn't have any value," he said. "We have no clout in the issue."