Northwest wheat growers are hoping for a swift resolution to a labor dispute that could keep their grain from reaching the world market. Grain terminals remain open in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, even though the terminals' owners have implemented a contract offer unionized longshoremen rejected.
Most of the wheat that grows on the rolling hills of eastern Washington is bound for the international market. But to get there, the wheat passes through one of a handful of grain terminals in the Northwest.
“So it is kind of the life blood of eastern Washington," says farmer Tom Zwainz, who heads the Washington Grain Commission. "We've been watching it for quite a while – hoping something would have settled, before now.”
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the owners of the terminals haven't yet reached agreement – which makes Kevin Whitehall nervous. He manages Central Washington Grain Growers, a cooperative sitting on 5 million to 6 million bushels of wheat in grain elevators across several counties.
Whitehall says standoffs like this one seem to have become standard.
“I never can remember a negotiation that it goes smoothly," he says. "They go through this exercise every time.”
Whitehall is just relieved shipments have so far not been disrupted in this standoff.