No Arrests as ILWU Members, Supporters Attempt to Turn Themselves In

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The Daily News (Longview, Washington)

No Arrests as ILWU Members, Supporters Attempt to Turn Themselves In

by
Erik Olson and Barbara LaBoe

ILWU Local 21 president Dan Coffman addresses the media Friday at the Cowlitz County Hall of Justice. (photo: Bill Wagner / The Daily News)

More than 200 union longshore workers and supporters massed peacefully outside the Cowlitz County Hall of Justice in Kelso early Friday afternoon, saying they were planning to surrender themselves to police to answer charges for demonstrations last week.

However, when no law enforcement official emerged to meet with them and officers present did not move to make any arrests, the group dispersed at 1:30 p.m after waiting a half hour.

Later Friday, though, the union's local vice president was arrested on two misdemeanor charges. He bailed out after roughly an hour in custody.

"I'm hoping we don't have to worry about being arrested in the middle of the night now. ... We shouldn't have to fear the intimidation that's been put forth or the abuse that's been put forth. ... We're going home as free citizens," Dan Coffman, president of the longshore union's Longview-based Local 21, said during the rally.

Last week, 20 union protesters were arrested on suspicion of blocking a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train bound for the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview. About 400 International Longshore and Warehouse Union protesters and supporters stood on the tracks and blocked the train for about four hours before it was allowed to pass.

Thursday, Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson announced six more arrests of union members in connection with the train blockage with more likely to come. Union officials said they were tired of law enforcement officers were following them home to arrest them, which is why they gathered in front of Nelson's office at the Hall of Justice.

Friday, Local 21 members stood in lines three deep facing the front door of the Hall of Justice. All members declined to talk to reporters and referred all questions to Coffman and Leal Sundet, the ILWU's San Francisco-based coast committeemen. Coffman said union attorneys had attempted to contact Nelson and County Prosecutor Sue Baur to turn themselves in but heard no response.

Sheriff's deputies say they received no such request and learned of the planned protest from the media, which is why they did not respond Friday.

"If someone wants to turn themselves in they need to do so in the appropriate manner. Dealing with it in a public fray is a negative for everyone," said Grover Laseke, the county's emergency management director and a spokesman for Nelson.

In a written statement Friday, Nelson praised the union for protesting lawfully during the demonstration.

"Today's event was peaceful, uneventful, and a great example of what we expect from protesters. They came, lawfully protested, and let their issues be heard. No need for us to do anything; no laws were broken," Nelson said.

Local union vice president Jacob Anthony Whiteside was arrested late Friday afternoon on suspicion of criminal trespass and obstructing of a train Sept. 7. Bail was set at $500 for the misdemeanor charges, and Whiteside posted bail and was released.

Union officials called the arrest — which they said was made in front of Whiteside's children in a church parking lot — another example of local police "going on a rampage," against union workers, according to an email from spokeswoman Jennifer Sargent.

The ILWU has been battling EGT for months to work at the $200 million grain terminal, which the company hopes to open for the fall harvest. At stake are 25 to 35 jobs. EGT has hired Federal Way-based union contractor General Construction Co. to staff the terminal from a pool of union operating engineers based out of Oregon.

ILWU officials say their contract with the Port of Longview entitles them to work on the 35 acres of port property that EGT leases. EGT officials say they believe they were only bound to meet the union, not necessarily hire longshore labor. A lawsuit over the matter is expected to go to trial next spring.

Coffman said he's frustrated that law enforcement in Cowlitz County has taken a harder line against the union in recent weeks. He noted that police in Vancouver arrested no one last week when union picketers blocked the EGT-bound train there. Coffman blamed Cowlitz County law enforcement for provoking union members by attempting to detain Robert McEllrath, president of the San Francisco-based international, during the protest on the train tracks Sept. 7.

"We've gotten a lot of false promises and a lot of false hopes. That's what we've gotten," Coffman said.

Early morning Sept. 8, a mass of protestors stormed the grain terminal. Many people carried ILWU signs, and damaged rail cars, spilled grain on the ground, smashed windows on security shacks and threatened security guards, police said. Early reports indicated that the guards had been taken hostage, but police later said the guards had been blocked from leaving.

"We have been accused of taking hostages. A lie. We have been accused of taking a security guard out of his car and beating him. A lie," Coffman said.

Police said an EGT security guard was allegedly pulled out of his vehicle that morning, while another man jumped in the car and drove it into a ditch.

On Thursday, Sundet sent a letter to Nelson, accusing the sheriff of siding with EGT in the labor dispute.

"It seems to us, Mr. Nelson, that you have become the lead propagandist for EGT, a multinational corporation with no interest in the community other than to generate profit for its foreign owners," Sundet wrote.

Both Coffman and Sundet refused to answer follow-up questions from reporters about the events last week. A federal judge ruled Thursday that the union was in contempt of a restraining order barring illegal picketing, leading to fines that will be determined later this month.

Nelson has previously said union protesters were more aggressive last week, leading to the arrests.

About a half hour before the rally, about 30 wives of current and retired longshoremen held signs and marched around the Hall of Justice in support of the ILWU.

"This isn't about wages. This is about breaking the union. We worked too hard to lose this," said Shirleen Fuqua, 69 of Longview, whose husband is a retired longshoremen of 39 years.

Union wife Wendy Vandenberg brought along 3-year-old granddaughter, Nicole Williams, who carried a sign reading "Stand up now or beg later" as she walked up and down the sidewalk wearing a pink tutu.

"She's the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of longshoremen," Vandenberg said.

Other area union leaders were on hand to support the ILWU, and they said they wished Nelson had appeared.

"It makes one extremely disturbed that no response was made (from Nelson.) I was surprised," said Jeff Washburn, chairman of the Cowlitz/ Wahkiakum Central Labor Council.

Washburn was one of the people arrested for trespassing at the rail tracks last Thursday.
 

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