Responding to union protests at the EGT grain terminal has cost the Cowlitz County Sheriff's office $29,000 since Sept. 7 — and those costs might be added to the union's civil contempt fine.
Officials in the sheriff's office calculated 689 hours of overtime since International Longshore and Warehouse Union protesters blocked a train near the terminal Sept. 7 and then overran the site on Sept. 8. That tally of overtime does not count the regular hours of deputies and detectives already working who also were diverted to the port. Nor does it include the nearly $10,000 in union protest overtime costs from earlier this summer, including an incident in July when protesters tore down a fence and occupied EGT property.
Longview and Kelso officials did not yet have overtime figures available Tuesday, but both agencies responded to the Sept. 7 and 8 protests and are tallying the costs at the request of the federal National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB has asked all police agencies who responded to the protests to report their costs from the Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 incidents. NLRB officials will then determine if the costs should be added to their proposed union fine for violating a temporary restraining order against violent protests and blocking trains. The fine also will take into account the damage estimates from Sept. 8, including spilled grain and cut brake lines on a train. The fine will be set by a federal judge next week.
"Once we receive all the figures, we'll assess what we believe is appropriate to submit to the court," said Richard Ahearn, the NLRB regional director in Seattle. The NLRB initiated court proceedings against the ILWU in August, claiming unfair labor practices.
If the judge does include police overtime costs in the union's fine, it's unclear whether that money would be used to reimburse local agencies. Ahearn, when asked, said he didn't "want to answer that at this point."
Union officials criticized including the overtime costs in the proposed fine.
"This is yet another example of the NLRB promoting the interests of capital and profit over the needs of workers and the community as a whole," Leal Sundet, ILWU coast committeeman, said in a written statement Tuesday.
Sheriff Mark Nelson said he's not seeking reimbursement for the county. He is simply responding to the NLRB request. That said, though, he is keeping a close eye on his budget as the overtime costs continue to grow. Some overtime is expected, but it's usually a one-time event, not an on-going action, he said.
But this summer deputies have worked nearly around the clock at times, only going home to sleep.
If this year's overtime costs cause him to exceed his total budget, Nelson will have to request more money from the county commissioners. He said he hopes to have a better idea if that will be necessary in the next few weeks as he reviews his budget and expenditures.
"There's certainly no question that this has been a significant drain on my budget," Nelson said. "And it's unfortunate, but that's the cost of doing this business. ... We need to get through the rest of the year and provide the law enforcement services that the citizens of the county expect."
ILWU members have been protesting the EGT terminal for more than two months, arguing that EGT's lease contract with the Port of Longview obligates the company to use ILWU workers. EGT instead hired General Construction Co., which hired union operating engineers who live in the local area and are based in Oregon.