VANCOUVER, Wash. — A Pacific Northwest grain terminal that locked out its union workers last week has sued a union official it accuses of damaging company equipment. The union representing the longshore workers quickly condemned the lawsuit.
In a filing Feb. 28 in Clark County Superior Court, United Grain Corp. accused Todd Walker of Vancouver of causing more than $300,000 in damage.
The lawsuit contends that last Dec. 22, Walker tried to halt production by throwing a pipe into a conveyer and damaged a gear box by pouring sand into it, The Columbian reported (http://is.gd/lIECUR).
Walker served on the union's contract bargaining team and as an elected member of the local union's labor relations committee, the lawsuit said.
International Longshore & Warehouse Union spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent said in a statement that the company is "publicizing unproven accusations against a single worker in order to cover for its own illegal lockout of an entire workforce." The union is confident the accusations will prove groundless, she said.
Walker was not immediately reachable for comment. Sargent said Monday night he was not available for interviews.
An independent police investigation of the accusations continues, Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said. No arrests have been made.
United Grain, part of the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co., locked out its union workers at the Port of Vancouver on Feb. 27 after saying it had evidence that a union worker had committed acts of sabotage.
Union members have picketed since then as company managers and replacement workers operate the export terminal.
The alleged sabotage took place shortly before contract talks between the longshore union and three grain-shipping corporations were declared at an impasse and the firms implemented the terms of their final offer. The previous contract expired Sept. 30.
More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports move through nine grain terminals on the Willamette River and Puget Sound. The contract dispute initially involved six terminals that operate under a single collective bargaining agreement with the ILWU: United Grain, based in Vancouver; Columbia Grain, based in Portland; Louis Dreyfus Commodities, which has grain elevators in Portland and Seattle; and Temco, which has elevators in Portland and Tacoma, Wash.
Columbia Grain and LD Commodities said they have no plans to join the lockout.
The U.S.-owned Temco broke from the alliance in early December and negotiated separately with the union. A five-year agreement was announced recently.
The ILWU has asked United Grain, Columbia Grain and LD Commodities to restart contract talks, saying the Temco deal "signifies the union's commitment to reaching a deal that maintains American industry standards and working conditions while addressing the concerns that elevator operators bring to the table."
Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the grain handlers, said Monday the group hasn't seen the Temco contact but wants to review it before deciding whether to restart negotiations.
The sticking points have been workplace rules and management rights – not money.
Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com