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Longshore workers involved in Wash. protest make themselves available for arrest; none occur
KELSO, Wash. (AP) ' About 200 Longshore workers involved in a hostile labor dispute in Washington state made gathered at a courthouse on Friday, challenging the sheriff to peacefully arrest anyone in the crowd accused of committing a crime.
"We're here. If you want us, come and get us," shouted ILWU Local 21 President Dan Coffman, looking up at the building. Union members cheered his declaration but largely stood quietly in two long lines.
No law enforcement officers approached the crowd and nobody was arrested. After about 30 minutes, Coffman led the group away and said he hoped they could live their lives without fear of confrontation from authorities.
Officials estimate they have made roughly 200 arrests throughout the monthslong labor dispute.
Many of those have been minor ' such as for trespassing ' but authorities are also investigating a raid last week in which witnesses said Longshore workers stormed a grain terminal, damaged property and overwhelmed security guards.
One of them ' 45-year-old Ronald Patrick Stavas of Kelso ' has been charged with first-degree burglary, second-degree assault, intimidating a witness and sabotage.
The union complains that authorities have not responded to requests to peacefully coordinate with those charged with crimes related to the protest, and they characterized the arrests that have occurred as "abusive"
Grover Laseke, a spokesman for the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, said he'd be glad to facilitate a discussion between union leadership and the sheriff about how to bring in those suspected of crimes.
But he disputed the suggestion that workers are being unfairly targeted.
"Our officers are going out and making arrests like they would do with any other crime," Laseke said. He said investigators still have a "pretty good handful of arrests that they want to make."
ILWU workers believe they have the right to work at a new grain terminal operated by EGT. The company has instead hired another firm that is staffing the site with a different set of union workers.
The aggressive tactics used by union protesters has not only drawn the ire of local law enforcement but also the National Labor Relations Board and a federal judge.
The judge found the union in contempt on Thursday and is considering a fine in connection to last week's protests.
Associated Press writer Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP