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Originally published Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:51 PM

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Longshore union demands jobs loading tunnel dirt

Longshoremen are mulling their options to resist what they consider a take-away of waterfront jobs by the Highway 99 tunnel contractors.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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They want way too much. A bunch of idiots shouldn't have the power to delay big... MORE
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Longshoremen are mulling their options to resist what they consider a take-away of waterfront jobs by the Highway 99 tunnel contractors.

The site is the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46, alongside the pit where giant tunnel drill “Bertha” began its journey toward downtown on Tuesday. Within a few weeks, excavated dirt will flow out the back end of the tunneling machine and travel a quarter-mile on conveyor belts to the waterfront. From there the muck will be loaded onto a barge, then towed across Puget Sound to fill the Mats Mats quarry near Port Ludlow.

Four jobs loading the barges, for two shifts a day, are at stake.

Current plans are to employ two operating engineers and two carpenters, instead of the longshoremen who for generations have moved goods across the West Coast docks.

It’s unclear how the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) might react, whether with a lawsuit, picketing or even direct obstruction.

“I’m not ruling anything out at this point,” said Cameron Williams, president of ILWU Local 19 in Seattle. “The ILWU’s going to protect traditional longshore work.”

Chris Dixon, project manager for the Seattle Tunnel Partners contracting team, said Friday the work will proceed using non-ILWU labor. An arbitrator ruled in July the four jobs are covered by the tunnel’s broader project labor agreement, which gives tunnel work to the building trades.

Asked if the dispute might interrupt tunnel boring, Dixon said Friday, “I have no idea.”

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office has been notified, said Matt Preedy, deputy Highway 99 director for the state Department of Transportation.

Tunneling companies actually signed a maritime loading contract on April 5 with Total Terminals International (TTI), an ILWU employer — while the M/V Jumbo Fairpartner was anchored in Elliott Bay with Bertha’s 41 pieces waiting to be delivered from Osaka, Japan. Not only did that contract establish that ILWU members would offload Bertha, it also contained a section giving ILWU the muck conveyor jobs.

In fact, the stalemate over muck explains why Bertha’s delivery was delayed one day. “We signed that contract under duress,” Dixon said Friday.

He and Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Seattle Building & Construction Trades Council, said the ILWU rejected their suggestion to use a crew in which two longshoremen would adjust the barge position while building-trades members would run the shoreline conveyor spout and a front-end loading machine.

The ILWU’s Williams replied Friday: “Just like ILWU doesn’t go up there and build skyscrapers, nor should operating engineers go and do longshore work.”

Contractors expect to save almost $4 million during the 14-month dig with building-trades workers, who can switch to other tunnel tasks when the muck isn’t moving, said Dixon.

A TTI vice president, Frank Capo, said, “We’d prefer not to comment, at this time.”

Over the years, ILWU members have mobilized often to protect jobs and West Coast territory from even small incursions that might set a precedent. In Longview in 2011, demonstrators opposed to the hiring of operating engineers at a new EGT grain terminal stormed a gate and blocked a train for four hours, leading to several arrests. ILWU international President Robert McEllrath to a day in jail and fined $500. But the 25 to 35 jobs ultimately went to the longshore union.

This article contains material from past (Longview) Daily News and Los Angeles Times stories. Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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