PORTLAND (AP) — A Pacific Northwest grain terminal owner imposed a lockout on longshoremen Wednesday after saying an “independent former FBI investigator” determined a union leader sabotaged company equipment at the height of contentious labor problems in December.
United Grain Corp., part of the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co., said nonunion replacement workers will operate its Vancouver, Wash., export terminal for an “indefinite” period. The company said it fired the union leader, whom it described as a member of the bargaining team of Local 4 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union but did not name.
The union called the company’s allegations unfounded, and locked-out longshoremen immediately picketed outside the terminal.
Late last year, the company was among Northwest terminal owners who declared an impasse on labor negotiations and imposed a contract that included new, management-friendly workplace rules.
United Grain said the sabotage occurred Dec. 22, days before the impasse. In one case, someone shoved a 2-foot-long metal pipe into a conveyor, causing it to shut down, the company said. In another, a vandal damaged a gear box with a mixture of sand and water.
The company, in a letter sent to the union, said an “impartial and independent” former FBI investigator determined the union leader was the culprit following an investigation that included interviews, surveillance tapes and other evidence.
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 of those 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.
The U.S.-owned Temco broke away from the alliance in early December and negotiated separately with the union. They announced a five-year agreement Wednesday.