Pickets continue at Vancouver port

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PORTLAND (AP) — Longshoremen locked out of their jobs at a Pacific Northwest grain terminal protested for a second day Thursday, but there was no one there yet to cross their picket line.

United Grain Corp. had enough management personnel on hand to start loading an export ship without the replacement workers who have been on standby for months.

“That’s one of the differences in the implemented contract is, we don’t need as many employees to load ships as required under the old contract,” said Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association.

United Grain, located at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., has the largest storage capacity of any West Coast grain-export facility. It generally employs eight to 20 workers per shift, and there are two shifts per day. McCormick said the replacement workers will be used, when needed.

United Grain, part of the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co., announced the lockout Wednesday. The company said it took the action because it learned this week that a union leader had sabotaged its equipment Dec. 22, shortly before contract talks between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and three grain-shipping corporations were declared at an impasse and the firms implemented the terms of their final offer.

The ILWU, whose members have spent two months working under contract language it overwhelmingly rejected, said the company has shown no evidence to support its allegation of sabotage.

“If Mitsui-United Grain had legitimate concerns about safety or equipment, or especially the conduct of an employee, they would have come to us at the bargaining table,” said Rich Austin Jr., the Seattle-based co-negotiating chairman for the union. “Instead, this corporation has chosen to lock out its entire workforce — a blatant example of guilt by association, and a violation of U.S. labor law.”

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