Columbia Grain locks out dockworkers in U.S. Pacific Northwest

Sat May 4, 2013 2:11pm EDT
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* Grain shippers accuse union of slowing operations

* Company has clashed with union over contract

* Workers say Columbia Grain never wanted an agreement

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO, May 4 (Reuters) - Grain shipper Columbia Grain on Saturday locked out longshore workers in the Pacific Northwest in the latest escalation of a simmering labor dispute.

The company, owned by Japanese trader Marubeni Corp , said it took action because members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWC) were purposefully slowing down operations at its terminal at the Port of Portland, a key outlet for exports to Asia.

Columbia Grain said it had contingency plans to keep operations running during the lockout.

"With bargaining stalled and the longshore workers engaging in 'inside game' tactics, including slowdowns, work-to-rule, and demands for repeated inspections of the same equipment - all designed to negatively impact Columbia Grain's operations - we have decided that a lockout is our best alternative," the company said in a statement.

A contract between the union and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, a collective negotiating group that includes Columbia Grain, United Grain Corp, Louis Dreyfus and TEMCO, expired in September.   Continued...