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Longshoremen likely to protest on two rivers if lockout occurs

PORTLAND — Longshoremen plan to take to the water if Northwest grain terminal owners decide to lock them out of their jobs, a U.S. Coast Guard official says.

Capt. Bruce Jones, commanding officer for Oregon and southern Washington, told The Oregonian that his agency has been meeting with representatives from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The longshoremen said they intend to protest in boats on the Columbia and Willamette rivers if a lockout occurs.

"They told us that at this time if it does become a protest, they do intend to have boats on the water," Jones said. "They assured us they would not use their vessels to try to blockade the channel."

The union contract between longshoremen and the companies that operate six grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest expired Sept. 30, but the sides agreed to extend talks into mid-October. There's no indication that negotiations will fail, but Coast Guard officials have been talking with union leaders and others along the rivers to lay plans in case they do.

Jones said managers of a security company that would be hired by terminals in the event of a lockout told the Coast Guard they are considering hiring some patrolmen in boats. Security boatmen, however, would have no enforcement authority on the water, where the Coast Guard and sheriffs' departments have jurisdiction.

Jones said Coast Guard officials will continue talking with the longshore union, terminal managers and others.

"If you have a choice between protesting on land and water, we feel land is a much safer place to do so," Jones said.

Jennifer Sargent, a union spokeswoman, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Farmers from the Northwest and Midwest have been keeping a close eye on the talks. The region has nine grain terminals, seven along the Columbia River and two on Puget Sound. More than a quarter of all U.S. grain exports and nearly half of U.S. wheat exports move through these facilities.