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Originally published December 24, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Page modified December 24, 2012 at 10:22 PM

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Union members reject grain exporters’ contract offer

Members of the ILWU voted down what Pacific Northwest terminal operators called their “last, best and final” contract proposal, but the companies said they intend to keep operating.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) overwhelmingly voted to reject what was described as the “last, best and final” contract proposal from three grain-handling companies, including Seattle export-terminal operator LD Commodities.

The outcome, announced Monday, could set the stage for a major labor dispute.

The grain companies — LD Commodities, Columbia Grain and United Grain — could seek to impose the contract and hire replacement workers.

Such a move likely would set off a wave of protests and create new uncertainties for the flow of wheat and other grains through Northwest ports.

The companies declined to reveal their next step.

“In light of the union’s rejection of the offer, the employers are reviewing their options. Regardless of the outcome, they remain committed to operating,” according to a statement the companies released Monday.

Union members in Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver (Wash.) and Portland, in voting Friday and Saturday, turned down the proposal by a nearly 94 percent margin, according to a statement by the ILWU.

Rich Austin, the Seattle-based co-chair of the union’s negotiating committee, urged the companies to continue talks.

“We encourage the multinational owners of these elevators to return to the negotiating table, instead of risking the U.S. grain export markets as a means to break the union,” Austin said in the union statement.

Temco terminals in Tacoma and Portland also are covered under the contract proposal that was rejected by the union members.

But Temco’s name was not included in a grain-handlers news release issued last week that describe the proposal as a “last, best and final” offer. Temco has not clarified its position on the offer.

The bargaining has not been about wages and benefits, but rather workplace rules, according to the companies, which say they are seeking contract concessions equivalent to what the union already has offered two competitors — EGT in Longview and Kalama Export in Kalama.

The rejected proposal called for the hourly wage for registered members to increase to between $34 and $36, with an additional $30 an hour for benefits, according to the grain exporters.

The companies said they want greater management discretion on a range of hiring and staffing decisions. They said they’ve held 34 days of meetings, including 11 facilitated by a federal labor mediator but remain millions of dollars apart on the question of labor costs.

Union officials said the companies have not bargained in good faith and have rejected every effort by the union to reach a compromise.

“In essence, their ‘last and final’ offer was not fundamentally different than that originally presented in September,” said Leal Sundet, a union official who serves on the negotiating committee.

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