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Originally published Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 2:28 PM

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Grain exporters to impose contract rejected by union

Three grain exporters said they will impose the terms of a contract that employees in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland rejected, but the union said its members will work under those terms for now.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After failing to reach a labor agreement with longshore workers, three grain export companies said Wednesday they will impose the terms of their contract offer on employees at terminals in Seattle, Vancouver and Portland.

That move had been expected to trigger picket lines and labor unrest by longshore workers who had spurned the proposed contract.

But International Longshore and Warehouse Union members plan to continue working “despite the substandard provisions of the employer’s last offer,” according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Jennifer Sargent, a union spokeswoman.

Union members last week rejected the proposed contract by a 94 percent margin. The grain terminal operators recruited replacement workers to staff the terminals, and had tugs prepared to buck picket lines and assist with moving grain in and out of ports in Vancouver and Portland.

The Pacific Northwest is a major export hub for overseas shipments of the nation’s grain, and the labor negotiations that have played out in recent months have been monitored by farmers concerned about possible disruption of exports.

The Seattle terminal handles corn and soybeans from outside the Northwest, while wheat is shipped through ports in southwest Washington and Oregon.

The three terminal operators — LD Commodities (which operates the Seattle terminal), Columbia Grain and United Grain — said they want cost-saving work rules equivalent to those the union offered to two other grain operators in Longview and Kalama.

The operators that are imposing the contract terms say it is not a lockout, and union members are free to come to work under the new terms of employment. In a letter to the union, the companies said that offer of work was contingent upon a “peaceful settlement without any efforts to disrupt the employers’ operations.”

The ILWU statement did not indicate how long the union members would work under the new contract.

“We are reviewing the multinational employer’s letter, and we’re disappointed that they haven’t accepted the union’s invitation to continue negotiating to reach a fair agreement with local workers,” the union statement said.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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