9/12/07

Unions cheer as leftists shut down Port

More than 100 demonstrators shut down a major terminal at the Port of Seattle today to protest alleged U.S. labor law violations by Seattle-based National Frozen Foods Corporation (NFFC). The protest, led by Washington State Jobs with Justice, took place at the Hanjin Shipping Terminal 46. NFFC uses the terminal to ship frozen vegetables to customers in Asia. The Hanjin Boston, chartered by Hanjin from German shipper NSB, was set to transport NFFC products from Seattle.

NFFC is one of the five largest private-label frozen vegetable processors in the United States. NFFC workers in Chehalis have been represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters since 1945.

Armed with fliers and noisemakers, the group blocked the main entrance to the 88-acre terminal, chanting slogans in support of workers' rights and demanding that longshore workers not load the cargo, while distributing fliers calling on NFFC to return to the bargaining table.

In response, longshore workers and marine clerks from the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) stood by in accordance with their collective bargaining agreement until the issue was resolved. The terminal operator agreed to isolate the NFFC cargo, put it on wheels and have NFFC remove the cargo from the terminal.

Paul Bigman, a rally organizer and officer of Jobs with Justice, explained that the group was sending a message to NFFC and shipping companies that do business with the food processor that Seattle will not tolerate employers "that continually disrespect the rights of their workers." Bigman vowed to work with Jobs with Justice coalitions and their allies in other areas to confront shipping lines that carry NFFC products. "What happened today in Seattle makes it clear that there will be problems throughout the logistics chain whenever and wherever NFFC cargo is involved," said Bigman.

Both the Teamsters and the ILWU are members of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), made up of 681 labor unions representing 4.5 million workers in 148 countries.

The action took place against the backdrop of growing demands by unions and community groups that NFFC cease all anti-worker activities and negotiate a fair contract with workers at its facility in Chehalis, Washington.

Since 2004, NFFC workers have made concessions to meet alleged financial difficulties at NFFC, including pay cuts of 16%, loss of health care benefits for seasonal workers, loss of retiree health care benefits, and increases in the number of qualifying hours for health care, pension benefits and pay increases. These concessions have hit hardest at those least able to afford them, particularly Latino workers and new hires.

NFFC has engineered two decertification votes in recent years, in 2004 and 2007. The workers beat back these efforts, voting to keep their Union, Teamsters Local 252 by better than 60% majorities. On July 14, 2007, NFFC illegally declared bargaining to be at an impasse, and ended their contract with the workers' Union. The Teamsters have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. NFFC has denied access to any pension plan for workers aged 18-21, eliminated entry into the defined benefit plan for new hires, stopped the Union grievance process, and put into effect minimal pay increases that come nowhere near making up for recent concessions.

Additionally, NFFC is under investigation by the State of Washington for alleged child labor law violations, including having children work into the night, denying minors legally mandated meal breaks, using minors to operate machinery, and forcing minors to work at legally inappropriate work stations.

Craig Dameron, Co-Chair of Washington State Jobs with Justice, stressed that the community has no dispute with Hanjin or NSB. But he vowed that "disruptions and delays at ports used by National Frozen Food will continue until NFFC returns to the bargaining table and signs a fair contract that honors its workers."

Washington State Jobs with Justice is a coalition of over 140 community, labor, faith and student organizations that mobilizes around issues that affect working families. It is part of the national Jobs with Justice network of more than 40 coalitions in over 25 States.

(earthtimes.org)

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