More than 300 ILWU members from ports up and down the West Coast led a spirited march through a chilly Northwest rain on November 8 to make their voices loud and clear at the gate of Kalama Export Company (KEX).
They shouted their demand in unison:
What do we want?
When do we want them?
The “benefits” means the security of the ILWU-PMA pension and welfare plan. Ironically, the company that owns KEX already provides these benefits – but only to workers at one of the two grain export facilities that it owns on the Columbia River. Pacificor, a joint venture of some of the world’s most powerful companies, owns KEX at the Port of Kalama, Washington, and also owns Columbia Export Terminal (CET) 50 miles upriver at the Port of Portland, Oregon.Workers at the Portland terminal receive ILWU-PMA benefits, but workers at the Kalama terminal cope with an inferior health plan and a 401(k) account that offers no guarantees of long term retirement security.
“It’s not right that the same employer has one standard for its workers in Portland but another for its workers in Kalama,” said Local 21 President Billy Roberts. “The work is the same, the hazards are the same, and the need for family health benefits and retirement security are the same,” said Roberts. “But the employer has refused, for three years at the negotiating table, to meet the industry standard on benefits. KEX needs to meet the same standard for its grainhandlers in Kalama as it already does for its grainhandlers in Portland.”
Local 21’s support on Nov. 7 was unmistakable in a small town like Kalama: 300 Longshore workers chanted their message along the railroad tracks that led to KEX gates, and they gathered at KEX in bright orange shirts that read, “ILWU Grainhandlers United for Equal Benefits for KEX Workers.”
About 100 of those ILWU members traveled from as far away as Tacoma and Seattle to the north, and San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach to the south. Elected officers from the ILWU International Headquarters and other West Coast ports took to the mic to urge Pacificor to meet the industry standard at KEX. International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe, International Secretary- Treasurer Willie Adams, and Coast Committeemen Cam Williams and Frank Ponce De Leon all boosted the crowd with powerful messages of solidarity from the Coast Longshore Division.
• Japan-based Marubeni (doing business as Gavilon)
• Japan-based Mitsubishi
• US-based Archer Daniels Midland
The other Northwest grain elevators that provide ILWU-PMA pension and welfare benefits are Columbia Export Terminal (CET) in Portland, Export Grain Terminal (EGT) in Longview, Louis Dreyfus Commodities (LDC) in Portland, Louis Dreyfus Commodities (LDC) in Seattle, TEMCO in Portland, TEMCO in Kalama, TEMCO in Tacoma, and United Grain Company (UGC) in Vancouver, WA.
Ownership of what is now the KEX terminal has changed hands several times over its 3-decade history. The workers at the terminal originally entered the union with an affiliated agreement, and are fed up with the employers’ substandard benefits.
The local newspaper, The Daily News, wrote a lengthy article about the march and noted that “dockworkers overwhelmingly rejected a previous company offer.”
“The grainhandlers at KEX have the support they need to stand strong,” said Williams.