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Tentative deal in Northwest grain terminal dispute

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm •  Published: August 12, 2014
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A bitter and occasionally violent two-year labor dispute at Northwest grain terminals ended with a tentative deal reached in the middle of the night.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and Pacific Northwest grain companies reached the agreement Monday shortly before midnight. If ratified, the agreement ensures that U.S. grain exports proceed without disruption during harvest. Details of the deal were not divulged.

"Clearly the parties maintained strongly held competing views on the many issues that divided them during this process. In the end they found a way," said Scot L. Beckenbaugh, acting director of the mediation agency based in Washington, D.C.

ILWU spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent confirmed the tentative agreement and said reduced pickets lines will remain at two terminals until the results of the contract vote are announced Aug. 25. Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the grain companies, said he needed to be briefed on the deal before making a statement.

More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports move through nine grain terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

The conflict started after a labor contract expired Sept. 30, 2012. It began to boil three months later, when United Grain and two other Pacific Northwest grain terminals declared an impasse and enforced a contract that included new, management-friendly workplace rules.

United Grain, based in Vancouver, Washington, imposed a lockout in February 2013, after determining a worker shoved a metal pipe into a conveyor and poured sand into a gear box. Longshoremen said the response was extreme and illegal, and they established a picket line at the Port of Vancouver.

Ronald Hooks, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Seattle, later determined that United Grain unfairly locked out the workers. The company disputed the finding. A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge had been scheduled to hear the matter.

Separately, Hooks said locked-out picketers violated labor law by engaging in threats and violence in the early months of the lockout. For example, he said, picketers threw rocks at a security officer and blinded truck drivers with spotlights. An administration law judge was also scheduled to hear these claims.

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