Work is expected to continue without incident at the coastal ports of Washington state this week after protests waged by unionized longshoremen on Thursday turned violent.
As many as 500 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) attacked security guards last week while storming the Port of Longview during what turned into the pinnacle thus far of a dispute between the organized labor workforce and a development company.
Longshoremen with the ILWU have staffed every coastal port in the region for nearly a century, but a new facility built by EGT Development at the Port of Longview is insisting on using staffers from elsewhere. In a statement earlier this month, ILWU President Robert McEllrath said that by employing others to do work traditionally within the union’s jurisdiction, EGT “could fundamentally change the dynamics of the relationship within the grain industry as a whole.”
In the latest acts of revolt from the union workers, hundreds took to the Port of Longview on Wednesday to keep a grain shipment from arriving on schedule. Protestors, under the leadership of McEllrath, blocked train tracks, dumped grain, vandalized railroad cars and assaulted security.
Demonstrations continued into Thursday, with preliminary reports first alleging that six port guards were being held hostage throughout the day, but the local police chief since dispelled those rumors, saying that while half a dozen guards were trapped while surrounded by protestors, they were never threatened, but rather “feared for their lives because of the size of the crowd and the hostility of the crowd.”
Nearly 20 longshoremen were arrested earlier in the week for obstructing the grain shipment, but as hundreds gathered throughout the afternoon and continued to occupy the port, no other arrests were issued. Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson adds to The Daily News, however, that he intends on trying to prosecute more workers in the aftermath for participating in the protests.
“We’ve got lots of evidence that we’re going through, and I anticipate making arrests,” Nelson said.
“This was an organized, large-scale criminal event,” Nelson said. “We’re talking about sabotage. We’re talking about riotous behavior.”
While protests erupted into violence and vandalism at the Port of Longview on Thursday, elsewhere throughout the state of Washington other unionized workers walked off the job. Leaders with the ILWU, however, have claimed that they did so on their own accord. ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees issued a statement of his own last week that “It appears the members have taken action on their own.”
Back at the Port of Longview, however, the odds of another outburst shouldn’t be eliminated. “A lot of the protesters were telling us this is only the start,” Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha told NBC News on Thursday.