Federal judge rules ILWU in contempt of court

2011-09-15T22:10:00Z 2012-06-28T18:36:35Z Federal judge rules ILWU in contempt of courtBy Erik Olson / The Daily News Longview Daily News
September 15, 2011 10:10 pm  • 

TACOMA — A federal judge Thursday ruled the longshore union in contempt of court for its protests and vandalism two weeks ago at the EGT grain terminal in Longview.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton also said he would fine the union, the amount to be determined by a company analysis of vandalism from a Sept. 8 raid at the terminal. EGT officials said they expect to have a damage estimate by the end of the month.

Leighton did not order anyone to jail. His order was directed at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Locals 21 and 4 in Longview and Vancouver.

During nearly five hours of proceedings Thursday, the judge scolded the union for the behavior of its membership, referring at one point to unruly protestors as "a mob."

"It's like asking the parent of a juvenile delinquent to predict your clients' behavior," Leighton told attorneys for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson said he's "hopeful" the contempt order will ease tensions at the terminal.

"My preference would be that everybody would sit down and try to talk this stuff out. I wish there had been no need for fines in the first place," Nelson said.

The union issued a statement following Leighton's ruling.

"Accountability goes both ways," the statement reads. "The workers faced the judge today, but so far there has been no accountability for multinational EGT, which has created chaos in the community by taking millions in a special tax exemption, breaking their agreement to hire ILWU workers, suing the port, and trying to destabilize the grain industry in the Northwest.

"If union members stand on a train track exercising their First Amendment rights, it is a crime. But, if a major corporation plunders an entire community, it matters not," the statement concluded.

EGT is owned by St. Louis-based Bunge North America, Japan-based Itochu Corp. and Korean shipper Pan Ocean STX.

"We appreciate and respect the court's decision today. We have always said that any issues between EGT, the Port of Longview and the ILWU should be resolved peacefully in a court of law," EGT CEO Larry Clarke said in a written statement.

Eight witnesses were called during Thursday's civil contempt hearing, in which Leighton decided that the union violated his Sept. 1 temporary restraining order prohibiting it from engaging in violence or doing anything to impede EGT's business, including blocking grain trains headed to the terminal.

During the proceedings, security guards and police officers described the early morning Sept. 8 raid on the terminal in frightening detail.

Charlie Cadwell, a Columbia Security patrol guard, said he was overwhelmed by a horde of longshoremen, all of whom were brandishing bats, shears and other weapons. He opened his car door, and a man yanked him to the ground and stood over him.

"I told him, ‘You've got about 50 cameras on you. Law enforcement is on their way."

"He was basically like, ‘F-- you. We're not here to get you. We're here to get the train," Cadwell said.

He identified the man as Ron Stavas, a Local 21 member who was arrested Monday on suspicion of four felonies in connection with the raid on the terminal.

Cadwell said he fled the area for the back of the property near the grain silos. After about an hour, as the group was leaving, they hurled rocks at Cadwell and other security officers, he said.

"I got hit between the eyes. I got hit in the knees."

However, Cadwell added he knew that security guards were not the target. When asked by EGT attorney Cliff Godiner if he was concerned for his safety, Cadwell replied, "No, I was not."

Longview police Sgt. Mark Langlois testified that in the early morning of Sept. 8 he was responding to a call of about a hundred vehicles leaving the longshore union hall on 14th Avenue in Longview. One vehicle pulled over and blocked him on Fibre Way, and Langlois said he was unable to do anything to stop the group.

"I was by myself. I was completely outnumbered. I wasn't about to stop any of these people from doing whatever it is they were going to do," Langlois said.

Last week, hundreds of longshoremen and supporters gathered on rail tracks on Port of Longview property to block a mile-long Burlington Northern Santa Fe grain train coming into the facility. The train was eventually was allowed to pass through, but 20 picketers were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, a violation of the restraining order.

At one point during the pickets, Cowlitz County sheriff's deputies Cory Robinson and Tory Shelton tried to arrest Robert McEllrath, president of the San Francisco-based ILWU, but were swarmed by the crowd and let him go, they testified Wednesday.

"A large group of protesters were rushing at us. I let go of Mr. McEllrath because I felt like they were going to overrun us," Robinson said.

On Sept. 8, Leighton made his Sept. 1 order permanent, hours after hundreds of people broke into the grain terminal, assaulted security guards and spilled grain from the rail cars. He angrily warned the ILWU's attorneys that people could hurt if the situation isn't under control.

The ILWU believes its members have the right to work at the terminal because of a working agreement with the Port of Longview, which leases the site to EGT.

EGT officials say they are not bound by that contract, and they instead hired union contractor General Construction Co. of Federal Way to staff the terminal with union operating engineers.

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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