Negotiators are staying mum on how many jobs at the Port of Longview's EGT grain terminal will be filled by union longshoremen, but a tentative settlement has already compelled the longshore union and EGT to push back a key labor hearing at the heart of the dispute.
The National Labor Relations Board postponed a hearing scheduled for Monday on whether the International Longshore and Warehouse Union engaged in illegal picketing during last summer's protests, according to Frank Randolph, Port of Longview attorney.
The first day of the hearing, expected to last at least a month, has been rescheduled for Feb. 6. According to the labor board, the Pacific Maritime Association also is listed as a party because of the lost time incurred by shippers due to longshore walkouts in Longview, Seattle and Tacoma in September in protest of EGT's hiring policies.
Attorneys for EGT, the ILWU and the Port of Longview are discussing ways to modify the company's lease and the port's working agreement with the ILWU to create the legal framework to get union workers in the terminal, Randolph said Tuesday, adding that the parties are also trying to settle a federal lawsuit filed a year ago over the staffing of the terminal.
"It sounded like everyone was excited to move forward," said Randolph, who is not directly involved in the discussions.
Meanwhile, negotiators for the company and the union are expected to hammer out the final details of the tentative agreement, which was announced Monday by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. The final version must then be ratified by a vote of all ILWU members on the West Coast. Both sides have declined to comment on contract details before a final agreement has been reached.
The original talks broke down almost exactly one year ago, with both sides later saying they had conducted almost no real bargaining.
A few key disagreements emerged last January that will need to be resolved:
• EGT's central control room: Company officials had insisted that their own management staff run what they term a state-of-art control room, which monitors the terminal's grain unloading systems, conveyor belts, the 140-foot tall silos and other operations. ILWU officials demanded that at least one longshoreman staff the control room to ensure the safety of workers in the terminal, citing the union's 80-year history working in West Coast grain terminals.
• Overtime pay: ILWU officials objected to an EGT proposal to structure 12-hour shifts over two weeks without paying overtime to workers on the job for more than eight hours a day. A longshore union rule requires overtime pay whenever an employee exceeds eight hours on a shift. Company officials said they wanted to operate 12-hour shifts to run the terminal as efficiently as possible.
• Number of shift jobs: According to the union, EGT last year offered the ILWU seven jobs per shift for two, 12-hour shifts, which the union said was insufficient without an agreement to work in the control room. The two parties also have yet to announce whether contractor General Construction would still have unionized operating engineers working in the terminal.
The ILWU and EGT had been locked in a protracted dispute over jobs at the terminal, which hit an abrupt cease fire Monday with Gregoire's announcement. The union has maintained that its contract with the Port of Longview requires EGT to hire Longview-based Local 21 longshore labor on the 35-acre site the company leases from the port.
EGT had disagreed and instead retained General Construction, which employed members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, based in Gladstone, Ore., for the 25 to 35 jobs at the terminal.
Port of Longview Commissioner Lou Johnson, a marine clerk and ILWU member, said Tuesday he thinks an agreement will help soothe tensions between the port and longshoremen.
"It's going to start a healing process. It's probably not going to be instantaneous. As far as Local 21 and the port goes, that process has already started," he said.