Shouting "We are union! We are community!" at least 500 union members and supporters rallied in Longview's Civic Center on Thursday evening to support the local longshore union in its labor dispute with the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview.
The hourlong peaceful protest, one of the area's largest labor demonstrations in recent memory, attracted union groups from Seattle to Portland, including public employees, boat captains, commercial food workers and construction trades.
"Unions stand behind each other, and unions have built this town. We believe in solidarity," said Lynda Hart, steward coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which claims about 2,500 members in Cowlitz County.
About eight state and local labor leaders took the microphone at a stage on the south end of the Civic Center in front of the Longview Post Office, calling for community support for the longshore union's battle to maintain its turf.
"We're going to win this fight because we're right. We're going to win this fight because this work — loading and unloading ships — is longshore labor. And we're going to win this fight because we're going to stay out here one day longer," said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council.
People carried signs reading, "Stop the war on workers" and wore T-shirts that said "No Wisconsin here" — a reference to last winter's effort in that state to strip state union workers of collective bargaining rights.
One teenage girl had "EGT sucks" printed on the backside of her shorts.
The rally's highlight was a folk ballad performed by Leith Kahl, a Seattle-based longshoremen, who told the story of this year's ILWU's labor fight in verse.
EGT officials could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
For the past two months, the $200 million EGT terminal has been the site of the state's most intense labor battle of the year. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union argues that its contract with the Port of Longview obligates EGT to hire longshore labor on the 35-acre site leased from the port. EGT officials say their lease agreement does not require the company to hire the ILWU for the 25 to 35 jobs, and they hired union contractor General Construction Co. instead.
EGT sued the port in federal court. A judge may make some preliminary rulings today, but the case is slated to go to trial in April.
"If the unions can't stay together, they're going to fall together. (EGT) started (challenging) the biggest and most powerful one around," said Kent Palmer of Castle Rock, a union state Department of Transportation worker.
Many of the speakers returned to the theme of a middle class under siege, and the crowd agreed. They said they feared the an ILWU loss would send shock waves through the labor community.
"If the longshoremen lose ground on this ... it's going to hurt every single union in the long run," said Chuck Barnes, a retired union pipefitter who lives in Longview.
"I think working people are tired," said Jim Kodama, a retired organizer and business agent for the local carpenter's union. "I think they're starting to stand up."
Kodama, 59, of Kelso, said the country's richest 5 percent "should take notice."
Union representatives from around the Northwest, such as Scott Oldham of a Portland painters union, came to the rally to pledge their support for the longshoremen.
"Since 1934 the painters and the ILWU have always had each other's back at all the ports up and down the coast," said Oldham, who lives in North Plains, Ore. "We'll be with them probably for another 100 years. We'll be right behind them. They fall, we fall."