SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 18, 2015) – Longshore workers and marine clerks who have moved cargo at the Ports of Oakland and San Francisco since 1934 have rejected a developer’s plan to export coal through former Oakland Army Base. International Longshore and Warehouse Union elected officials say coal is an undesirable, low-value cargo and a broken promise on the part of the developer, and longshore workers are standing by community members who do not want the worry and risks of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year. After much research and discussion, the rank and file members of ILWU Local 10 and ILWU Local 34 have voted to oppose the handling of coal at the site.
“When the developers of the project were seeking tax money and public support to develop the Oakland Army Base, they talked about exporting cargoes like grain and potash,” said Sean Farley, President of ILWU Local 34. “They made a ‘no coal’ promise to workers, the community and elected officials, and they need to make good on that promise. Waterfront space is in short supply on the West Coast, and it would be a mistake to lock Oakland into a decades-long lease with a coal industry that many say is dying. Coal proposals have failed up and down the West Coast, and Oakland shouldn’t become the dumping ground for dirty, low value cargoes that no one else wants.”
After the Oakland City Council granted the California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG) the right to develop the former army base adjacent to the Port of Oakland, CCIG planned to build the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on the site. CCIG has since turned its “no coal” promise into a “coal or nothing” threat, claiming no other cargo will pay the bills. Meanwhile, other West Coast ports are thriving while exporting products like grain, potash, soda ash, salt, and other commodities and bulk products.
“Coal is not the right way to bring jobs to Oakland,” said ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad. “Oakland families are already worried about asthma and other sickness because of highways and port activities. It’s not right to ask them to take on the worry and risk of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year. If the developers haven’t found a cleaner, safer product yet, they owe it to the City of Oakland to make good on their promise and keep looking. They’ll find better cargoes if they are truly committed to bringing good, safe jobs to our community.”
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s Coast Longshore Division represents approximately 25,000 longshore men and women in 30 West Coast ports from San Diego, CA, to Bellingham, WA.
In the late 1800s, when a cargo vessel entered the Puget Sound, it would take on longshoremen at its first port of call, then those men would remain on the ship to work the vessel at all ports in the area.
In mid-June of 1886, the “Queen of the Pacific” put into Seattle where she took on six longshoremen. The longshoremen were charter members of the newly established Seattle Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers Union (SL&RU), predecessor of ILWU Local 19. During June and July, the= vessel discharged and loaded cargo at docks in the Puget Sound, working its way up to British Columbia.
On June 9, 1886, the Queen was docked in Nanaimo, British Columbia, where a powerful blast ripped through the ship’s hold, taking the lives of the six charter members of the SL&RU: Hans Hanson, August Johnson, William Kade, William McDonald, Patrick Priestly and William Robee. For 59 years, the tragedy was the worst waterfront accident in the history of the West Coast.
The explosion occurred at five minutes before noon on July 29, 1886, at the Nanaimo coal dock where Seattle coal passers were winging coal into the corners of the ship’s hold. Suddenly, a ton of coal hit the center of the lower deck; a clap shook the ship from aft to stern anda sheet of flame flashed upward from the hold to the upper deck.
The SL&RU coal gang was engulfed by flames. As they were carried out of the lower hold, eyewitnesses saw that hair had been burned from their heads and faces; flesh hung in shreds and their “cries were most heart-rending.”
The severely burned men also included eight seamen. Horse-drawn wagons carried the injured to the Nanaimo Hospital where three doctors worked around the clock for two weeks to save lives. One by one, all of the longshore workers and two sailors died from seared lungs and skin burns A court of inquiry later determined that coal dust had ignited from spontaneous combustion. They ruled that the explosion was an accident that could not have been prevented. Ten months later, an explosion killed 155 miners at the same mine that provided coal for the “Queen of the Pacific.” Another court of inquiry found the second explosion also an “unavoidable accident.”
During the century that followed, coal miners in North America fought to end coal dust and methane explosions that were claimed by employers and their experts to be “unavoidable.”
Union members in the United States finally succeeded in passing the Mine Safety and Health Act in 1977 that led to significant safety and health improvements.
Seattle longshore workers installed a plaque at the Nanaimo gravesite in 1886 to commemorate the deaths of their union brothers and to thank the people of Nanaimo for caring for them. But after 128 years, the plaque had disintegrated. Seattle Pensioners commissioned Local 19 member and artist Ron Gustin to replicate the original plaque.
The new monument is a bronze relief mounted on charcoal black granite that measures 20 x 6 x 28, and weighs 575 pounds. Father Piotr Lapinski, who was in charge of St. Peter’s Cemetery, graciously agreed to the re-installation.
At the 2015 rededication Lapinski’s successor Father Krzysztofy (Chris) Pastuszka delivered the benediction for the fallen six.
Seattle Pension President Carl Woeck read the original SL&RU message that was dedicated in 1886:
“We wish to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation of the services rendered our six comrades by the citizens of Nanaimo and missionary Charles Seghers following the recent accident on the Queen of the Pacific. Our fallen union brothers Hans Hanson, August Johnson, William Kade, William McDonald, Patrick Priestley and William Robee rest in peace in your care. Should the opportunity ever present itself, the people of Nanaimo may rest assured that the longshoremen of Seattle will endeavor to repay the debt that they so justly owe them.”
Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers Union of Washington Territory
Frederick D. Sprague, President
Henry Storey, Secretary
August 7, 1886
After the graveyard ceremony, Americans and Canadians met at the Bastion Hotel in Nanaimo for lunch. Seattle Pensioner Vice President Ian Kennedy was the banquet emcee.
Speakers included ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko, Local 19 President Jason Gross, Seattle Pensioner President Carl Woeck and ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams. Comradeship between Canadian and American longshoremen was the theme of the remarks. All stressed that remembrance of the terrible tragedy had strengthened the bonds of friendship, and that we are part of a worldwide family who will always be considered brothers and sisters.
At the luncheon, it was noted that another longshore tragedy happened in Vancouver, British Columbia, on March 6, 1945. The steamship Green Hill Park blew up and killed six longshoremen and two seamen. Somehow, whisky, flares and sodium chlorate had been stored together in ‘tween decks in Hold 3. The flammable cargo exploded and blew out a steel bulkhead that killed Donald G. Bell, Joseph A. Brooks, William T. Lewis, Morton McGrath, Montague E. Munn and Walter Peterson. Seamen Julius Kern and Donald Munn, who were in a room directly above the exploding cargo, also perished from asphyxiation.
Ronald Magden, historian; with Mark Gordienko, President ILWU and Charles Zuckerman, Local 500
Elections have serious consequences for ILWU members and their families – especially for ILWU longshore workers who recently found themselves being targeted by Republican members in Congress. Here’s how it happened.
In 2014, Republicans took over the United States Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives. The Democratic Party played it safe and failed to outline a progressive agenda for working families. In the absence of a Democratic agenda to vote for, voters found something to vote against, registering their anger against growing unfairness in the economy.
Attitudes measured by exit polls were negative in the extreme, with 8 in 10 saying they were dissatisfied by the performance of Congress, and 54 percent giving the thumbs down to Obama. A majority of voters were unhappy with the U.S. economic system itself, with nearly two thirds saying it’s unfair and favors the wealthy – and only 32 percent saying it’s fair to most people.
Instead of changing the economy to work for the majority of Americans, the newly elected Republican Congress decided to throw their weight behind the rich and powerful, trampling the working class.
One unifying belief held by the Republican leadership is that they do not like strong unions, so they have focused their efforts against a strong union – the ILWU – that fights without apology for good wages, health and pension benefits, and safe workplaces.
In the last month, U.S. Senators, Senator Cory Gardner (Republican from Colorado) and Senator John Thune (Republican from South Dakota) made speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate, asking other Senators to support their efforts to punish the ILWU for standing up to employers. Senator Gardner proposed legislation to extend powers to Governors to meddle in the collective bargaining process between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association.
Senator Thune introduced legislation (The Port Performance Act) which mandates that the federal government monitor productivity and gather statistics on longshore workers.
Unfortunately, a part of the Port Performance Act (S. 1298) was included in a comprehensive transportation bill that passed the Senate.
Senator Mazie Hirono (Democrat- Hawaii) prepared an amendment to the bill that would have struck the port metrics section from the bill, but Senate Republicans refused to allow her to offer the amendment on the floor. The Senate Republican leadership also slipped in a provision that would allow automation costs to be funded through federal government grants to ports.
The ILWU Washington office and the ILWU grassroots legislation action committee are working long hours to stop the Port Performance Act and government-funded automation from being considered in the House of Representatives. We are engaged in meetings with House members who serve on the Transportation Committee including moderate Republicans.
We are broadening our coalition to include port managers and some terminal operators who may want to work with the ILWU rather than work against us.
If the Port Performance Act passes both Houses and is signed by President Obama, it would cause many negative – and some unexpected consequences.
It would impose a top-down system of federal productivity measurements on port workers. The bill calls on the federal government to collect metrics from ports, including a count of the number of crane moves made by operators at each of our nation’s largest ports. If the legislation becomes law, some unscrupulous terminal operators will try to speed up operations on the docks in order to appear more appealing to shippers, endangering worker health and safety. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the number of accident reports in the longshore industry at 6.6 accidents per 100 workers. This is twice the rate of accidents in the coal mining industry. If the proposed legislation becomes law, accidents are likely to increase, with more worker deaths and permanently disabilities.
A provision added to the Senate Transportation bill lists electronic roads and driverless trucks within ports as a project that could be funded through federal freight transportation grants. If this federal subsidy is implemented at maritime facilities, funding for automation projects will expand because of federal tax dollars, not market demands, and the number of workers employed at our nation’s ports could be significantly reduced. Driverless trucks and electronic roads will not increase overall port productivity – but they will destroy thousands of jobs and harm local communities, while the federal subsidies create a windfall for terminal operators – most of whom are foreign-owned.
ILWU members can play an important role in stopping ant-union legislation from becoming law. Your member of Congress can be reached at 202-225-3121. Tell your Representative the following:
- You are concerned the Senate Transportation bill has been combined with the Port Performance Act and a government subsidy for automation on the docks.
- The Senate Transportation bill would kill jobs by funding driverless trucks.
- The Port Performance Act will lead to increased accidents, fatalities and injuries.
- The Act will harm communities who depend on good jobs at our nation’s ports.
- Ask that your member of Congress vote against any bill that includes these measures.
This report was prepared by the ILWU’s Legislative Director, Lindsay McLaughlin.
Members of the Maritime Union Australia, Queensland Branch in Brisbane recently recorded a solidarity message to the ILWU while on the picket line.
Thirty-five years ago, the brutal murder of ILWU Local 37 officials Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes sent shock waves through Seattle and the international labor movement. Supporters spent decades gathering evidence of a high-level conspiracy that involved former dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines – and exposed complicity by U.S. officials who backed his bloody regime.
Family members, friends and community supporters gathered in San Francisco on July 17 at ILWU Local 34 to screen a new documentary film about the slain ILWU leaders who led a reform campaign against corruption in Local 37 that represented a predominantly Filipino immigrant workforce employed in Alaskan salmon canneries.
The film, “One Generation’s Time: The Legacy of Silme Domingo & Gene Viernes,” was produced by Shannon Gee. The 1-hour documentary explains how the pair of union activists were also active in the Union of Democratic Filipinos, known as the “KDP,” a left-wing political organization that supported improvements for immigrant Filipino workers and the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship. The KDP’s goals spurred hostility from the Marcos regime and from thugs who preyed on union members in ILWU Local 37.
When Viernes and Domingo were gunned down in the union hall on June 1, 1981, the murders were initially reported as isolated acts of violence, and two shooters with gang connections were convicted. But friends and family were convinced there was more to the story, and organized the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV) which eventually confirmed that Philippine
President Ferdinand Marcos had ordered the murders. A civil lawsuit eventually returned a $15 million jury verdict against Marcos.
In 1989, a federal jury agreed with the CJDV, and found Marcos guilty of the murders in 1989. Two years later, former Local 37 president and Marcos supporter Constantine “Tony” Baruso, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Viernes.
In 2011, the Inlandboatmen’s Union, Region 37, created an annual scholarship to honor the memory of Domingo and Viernes by assisting students at the University of Washington’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies Following the film, a discussion was led by Terri Mast, Silme Domingo’s widow and Secretary-Treasurer of the Inlandboatmen’s Union. Joining her was Domingo’s sister, Cindy, who serves as Chief of Staff to Seattle Councilmember Larry Gossett.
“The film has been shown many times on Seattle public television,” said Mast, “and soon copies of the DVD will be more available for the public.”
Anyone wishing to see the film online can do so at www.seattlechannel.org/CommunityStories?videoid=x21162
A diverse delegation of ILWU leaders joined hundreds of community supporters who marched to support workers at the Sakuma Brothers berry farm on July 11.
The effort was organized to help a two-year struggle by Sakuma farmworkers against one of Washington State’s largest berry growers who is refusing to recognize the workers’ independent union: Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice).
Walking for justice ILWU leaders from Locals 9 and 19 in Seattle, and Local 25 in Anacortes, joined forces with ILWU Pensioners, Puget Sound District Council members, and members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU). They met in the morning near Interstate 5 in the Skagit Valley then marched along a side road that passed through miles of lush berry fields, before arriving at Sakuma’s processing facility and labor camp.
Signs of struggle
As marchers arrived at the complex, they could see that Sakuma’s retail “farm stand” and “u-pick” operation were both closed because of growing community opposition to the company’s anti-worker stance. Sakuma even tried giving away their berries for free at one point, but local opposition has made the company’s PR gimmicks ineffective.
Skagit Valley is ground zero
Sakuma’s operation in the beautiful Skagit Valley is located just an hour north of Seattle. The valley’s mild temperatures are perfect for growing strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. An astonishing 3 million pounds of raspberries are grown there annually and each berry must be carefully harvested by skilled hands.
Berry farming is big business
During the past 85 years, Sakuma has grown from a small family farm to a large corporate enterprise that includes a processing plant, controlled storage, commercial nursery and retail operation. The corporation is no longer being managed by the family, confirmed by the hiring of a new CEO last March. Sakuma sells fresh berries to supermarkets and warehouse stores like Costco through the giant Driscoll brand. They also provide berries used in Häagen-Dazs ice cream and other high-profile products.
Strikes past and present
Sakuma workers are all immigrants from southern Mexico, most of whom speak indigenous languages like Mixteco and Triqui. Two years ago they organized a strike against Sakuma over poor pay and working conditions.
Another strike occurred this June when Sakuma berry pickers walked off the job during the first two days of the blueberry harvest. A factor in the recent strike was management’s scheme to isolate union supporters by dividing the workforce into small groups with different start times. Despite the company’s divide-and-conquer tactics, nearly 200 workers expressed support for last month’s work stoppage.
“This was a reprisal action against the union,” said Benito Lopez a member of the executive committee of Familias Unidas por la Justicia. “They wanted to separate us into groups of 10 people, and have each group begin at different times, 15 minutes apart, but we stuck together and walked out of the field in unity against another unjust labor practice. On top of the low wages, now we have to put up with these practices.”
Breaking laws, paying fines
Despite Sakuma’s insistence that they are an exceptional employer, the company has been caught red-handed cheating workers. In 2013, Sakuma agreed to pay an $850,000 settlement for cheating workers out of pay by denying breaks and refusing to pay for hours worked. The cheated an estimated 1,200 farmworkers who will benefit from a lawsuit that the company agreed to settle instead of facing a judge or jury.
Using visas to bust unions
One tactic used by Sakuma and other growers to keep labor costs low and unions out of the fields is the recruitment of guest workers from Mexico. In 2013, Sakuma hired 70 temporary workers from Mexico using the Federal H2A guest worker visa program –claiming that they faced a “labor shortage.”
“Free market” farce
Employers who claim they’re suffering from labor shortages can use the H2-A visa program to avoid raising wages to attract local workers – a flagrant violation of “free market” principles that politicians often adore and companies frequently employ to argue against unions.
Immigrant workers with H2-A visas are easily exploited because employers can quickly return a complaining worker back to Mexico. Even workers who don’t complain can only stay in the U.S. for less than a year, must remain at the same employer, and must immediately return home after their work is finished.
Ski resorts & call centers
Employer abuse of the guest worker visa system is widespread in the agriculture industry but not limited to field work. The hospitality industry is increasing using a similar visa program to hire poor eastern Europeans for “temporary” work in ski resorts and summer lodges. Abuse of guest worker visas has been sanctioned by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the White House, and a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center called it “Close to Slavery.”
The hi-tech industry has successfully used a similar visa scam, known as the H1-B program, to secure scientists, engineers and programmers at low-wages ,= displacing domestic workers. Employers justify their use of the program by making false claims of an alleged “shortage” of high-tech workers. Employers have even used temporary immigrants to replace domestic workers at call centers and customer service operations – all to avoid raising wages or improving conditions.
Public pressure helps
In 2014, Sakuma Farms requested 438 new visas for the year, alleging that it faced a labor shortage. At the same time, it sent strikers letters saying they’d been fired. After workers signed letters saying they were available to work, exposing Sakuma’s lies, the company withdrew its application as pressure mounted on the U.S. Department of Labor to turn down Sakuma’s request.
Trending in wrong direction Photojournalist David Bacon has spent time meeting and interviewing workers, and notes that a decade ago, there were few H-2A workers in Washington State. But by 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor had certified 6,251 applications – a number he says doubled since 2011.
“The irony is that one group of immigrant workers, recruited by growers using the H2-A visa program, are being pitted against another group of recent immigrants from Mexico who have been hired by Sakuma for years,” said Bacon.
Rosalinda Guillén, who directs a local group called “Community2Community” in Bellingham, agrees. “The H-2A program limits what’s possible for all workers,” she says. The community- based group is advocating for farm worker rights as part of a just, sustainable food system.
Boycott Driscoll & Häagen-Dazs
Supporters are now calling for a boycott of all berries marketed under the Driscoll’s label. Driscoll’s is the largest berry marketing operation in the world, that sells to thousands of supermarkets and warehouse stores, including Costco.
Driscoll’s markets Sakuma’s blueberries, and Familias Unidas por la Justicia charges that it is equally responsible with Sakuma for denying workers fair wages and the right to negotiate a union contract. Sakuma also sells strawberries used in Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
The struggle by Sukuma farm workers was discussed at the ILWU’s 36th International Convention in June. The issue was explained by Rich Austin, President of the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association. Delegates learned of Sakuma’s many abuses, and they took action by unanimously adopting a resolution to support workers and a boycott:
“RESOLVED: that the ILWU calls upon other labor organizations and legislators and congressional delegations to support a boycott of Sakuma Brothers Farms, Haagen-Dazs, and Driscoll’s Berries until the demands of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia are met.”
The day before the march, ILWU leaders joined other supporters for strategy discussions with union leaders from Familias Unidas por la Justicia.
Other union leaders from Washington State, California and Mexico also attended the meeting. Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson marched with workers and supporters the following day.
“This is an important campaign that crosses borders to unite the common concerns of workers,” said Austin, noting that berry workers in Mexico’s Baja California have also been striking– and that those berries are also sold by Driscoll. “It’s not an easy fight, but the important fights are never easy,” he said. “Solidarity and unity are the best weapons we have to fight injustice and capitalist greed.”
Thousands of ILWU members, their families, community supporters and elected officials gathered at parks, cemeteries and union halls up and down the West Coast to mark the 81st anniversary of Bloody Thursday and pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives in 1934 in order to build the ILWU.
Southern California’s Bloody Thursday tradition in the Harbor Area involved up to 2,000 ILWU members, friends and family.
Morning for martyrs
The first – and some say most important part of the day – began with a morning assembly at Gardena’s Roosevelt Memorial Park where ILWU members gathered to honor the first two martyrs killed in the bloody 1934 struggles that gave birth to the union.
First Blood of 1934
Dickie Parker and John Knudsen were both buried at Roosevelt Park after being shot, along with five other union members, by company-employed goons shortly after midnight on May 15, 1934 at Berth 145 in Wilmington. The first deadly confrontation on the docks that year between strikers and strike-breakers involved the employer’s use of armed private guards. Dickie Parker died on the way to the hospital while John Knudsen lingered for weeks before dying of his wounds. Public response to the killing of both men was impressive, with an estimated 8,000 lining the streets from San Pedro to Gardena to witness the procession of cars that stretched six miles. Law enforcement warned of a riot following the funeral, but because both events were peaceful, public support increased for the union cause.
Eighty-one years later at a few minutes after 10am, Local 13’s Angel Blanco called together 50 participants – most of whom arrived in dozens of tricked-out classic cars and scores of motorcycles from the Longshoremen’s Motorcycle Club. They gathered quietly at the graveside of Dickie Parker, offering prayers and reflections.
“The picnic later this afternoon is great, but this event is the most important part of the day for me and everyone here,” said Blanco. The service started with a beautiful solo rendition of the national anthem following a soulful benediction and prayer.
Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr., noted that the remains of more than100 charter longshore union members are found in the surrounding graves at Roosevelt Memorial Park, making it “hallowed ground.” He thanked Local 65 brothers from the Port Police for attending and providing their motorcycle escort for the car caravan that followed the service.
He concluded by reminding everyone that sacrifices made this year by longshore workers struggling for a new contract cannot be forgotten – because they are part of a larger struggle by one generation after another – beginning with the ultimate sacrifice made by Dickie Parker and John Knudsen in 1934.
Pensioner Jerry Brady read his Bloody Thursday poem that brought tears to the eyes of some, followed by Pensioner and former International President Dave Arian who reminded the group that today’s ceremony had been dropped for decades before being restored during the 1980’s.
At 10:30, engines roared to life in the classics, cruisers, hot-rods and Harleys that slowly pulled out of the Memorial Park behind a symbolic hearse provided by All Soul’s Mortuary in Long Beach. The mock funeral procession made its way through a ten-mile trek south to San Pedro, passing along the waterfront and going up 7th Street through downtown before arriving at Peck Park where hundreds of family members were already gathered for the Bloody Thursday picnic.
Local 13 member Bobby Rodriguez and his wife Liz brought up the rear of the caravan, So Cal style, in their tastefully lowered, very cherry 1937 Chevy Master Deluxe, part of the Solo Riders Car Club.
“We come every year!” they said.
Picnic with a purpose
Union members arriving at the park could hear it was happening from blocks away, thanks to the excellent live music provided by three local bands that are connected through The band “Jamin’ Mood” opened the event, followed by a mid-day performance from the group “Low-Key,” and ended with DW-3 who closed out the event before heading to Miami for a big gig there. Dancing increased during the afternoon as the crowd increased.
A wide-range and food and drinks were available at no cost to members and families that included hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos and burritos. But the BBQ pits seemed to generate the most heat between cooks and patrons, with notable contributions from the Longshoremen’s Motorcycle Club and Heavy-Hitters softball team, with Nacho Sanchez and Shakey Namahoe from the Hitters especially proud of their tri-tip. Local 13’s team of Johnny and Manuel Amaro grilled hundreds of jalapeno peppers that went into their burritos and were cooled with icy agua frescas.
Kids had a blast
Much of the picnic festivities focused on entertainment for kids – which gave grown-ups a chance to relax and socialize while their children played safely on a dizzying assortment of activities that included several bounce houses, slides, basketball, two video-game arcade trucks and face painting.
Pensioner & Auxiliary presence
The Southern California Pensioners Group had a booth with tables, chairs, food and goodies available for dozens who dropped-by. The always active ILWU Federated Auxiliary Local 8 ladies worked the crowd, selling raffle tickets for a local benefit.
Just a dash of politics
An impressive roster of politicians attended the picnic to mingle, shake hands and provide mercifully short greetings. Introduced by Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr., the elected officials paid their respects to the union’s bloody beginnings and expressed support for the union’s recent battle for the new longshore contract. Attendees included Congress members Janice Hahn and Alan Lowenthal, State Treasurer John Chiang, State Senator Isadore Hall, ILWU-endorsed State Senate candidate Warren Furutani, State Senator Ricardo Lara (represented by staffer Cory Allen), Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino (represented by staffer Gabby Medina), Long Beach City Councilmember Roberto Uranga, Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, Assemblymember Mike Gipson (represented by staffer Chris Wilson) and Long Beach School Board member Felton Williams.
Olvera also introduced several ILWU union officials who attended the event from out of state, including Local 8 member Jim Daw from Portland who serves on the ILWU International Executive Board, Local 23 President Dean McGrath from Tacoma, Local 8 member and Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet and Local 19 President Cameron Williams from Seattle. Longtime Local 13 member and retiring Coast Committeeman Ray Ortiz Jr., was also recognized and thanked for his many years of service.
Planning for success
“We planned to handle up to 2,000 guests and came pretty close,” said Jose Olivaras who chaired the Bloody Thursday Committee that included Steve Linares, Melon Cesar, Nacho Enriques and Paul Zuanich – plus a team of 120 volunteers that included more than a dozen volunteers from the Beacon House Association of San Pedro.
“We started putting this together three months ago, and it all came together in a good way, thanks to everyone’s hard work,” said Olivaras.
Scores of ILWU members, pensioners and their families gathered at the Local 10 hall in San Francisco for the traditional Bloody Thursday memorial serviced sponsored by the Bay Area Longshoremen’s Memorial Association (BALMA) and Locals 10, 34, 75 and 91.
ILWU member Scott Barton performed taps once again to honor the waterfront strikers who were killed in 1934. Talented singer Aaliyah Washington-Purry, who has also performed at previous Bloody Thursday memorials, sang the National Anthem again this year. Local 10 President Melvin Mackay welcomed everyone to the Local 10 hall and reminded them that the wages and working conditions enjoyed by ILWU members today were built on the sacrifices of those who fought and died in 1934 – and the generations of longshore workers who continued that struggle.
Local 10 pensioner Lawrence Thibeaux served as the master of ceremonies for the event. Following Melvin Mackay’s speech, ILWU historian Harvey Schwartz recounted the failed strikes at West Coast ports in 1916 and 1919 that faltered because of the disunity that prevailed until 1934.
ILWU pensioner and former ILWU
Librarian Gene Vrana gave a concise history of the 1934 strike, its impact and legacy. Other speakers at the event included BALMA Treasurer Mike Villeggiante, Local 34 President Sean Farley, former Local 10 Presidents Cleophas Williams and Joe Lucas, and ILWU Pensioner George Romero.
Farley’s address highlighted recent legislation being pushed by Republican Senator John Thune that would greatly expand the Taft-Hartley provision of the National Labor Relations Act by empowering state governors to intervene in strikes or worker “slow downs” at the nations ports.
Farley said this was a serious and historic threat to the ILWU’s strength and would weaken the ability of port workers to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions.
After the memorial, Local 10 hosted a full day of activities in their hall including a catered lunch of pizza and pasta, live music and dancing, and plenty of activities for kids that included a magic show, face painting, balloon art and caricature drawings.
Puget Sound picnic with a purpose
Puget Sound ILWU families celebrated Bloody Thursday on July 5th at the Vasa Park & Resort along the shores of beautiful Lake Sammamish.
The all-day gathering at was located just 8 miles away from Seattle, but the cool waters and beautiful forest seemed a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the city and docks.
An estimated 700 union members and family participated in the July 5 event that combined an important ceremony that remembered the union’s past – while providing some serious entertainment and relaxation opportunities for hard-working family members and kids.
The food was plentiful and delicious, with barbequed ribs, brisket, chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers – along with grilled tofu that was said to be surprisingly tasty.
To honor Bloody Thursday, Local 19 pensioners John Fisher and Carl Woeck led a ceremony recognizing each of the seven union martyrs who were killed during the 1934 west coast maritime strike that established the foundation for today’s ILWU. After Fisher and Woeck struck the bell 7 times to honor the 1934 martyrs, they struck the bell again for each ILWU member and pensioner who had passed during the previous year.
Awesome fun and games
A nearby boat ramp allowed some members to bring their own boats, but most of the action focused on shore side activities. A waterslide was provided especially for the picnic and proved to be among the most popular amusements, but there was stiff competition from the bouncy house and airbrush face and arm-painting booth. Some drove their classic cars to the event and= put them proudly on display. There were no speeches from politicians – although Local 19’s own John Persak, who’s running for Seattle City Council, was welcomed and made the rounds.
A local sound ordinance ruled-out a live band, but Local 19 member Leith Jasinowski-Kahl brought his banjo and played some classic union songs.
The successful event required many volunteers who generously gave their time to help 700 participants enjoy a special day. The volunteer team included: Mike Callahan, Dusty Crabtree, Sarah Esch, Warren Fairbanks with kids Jeremy & Anna, John Fisher, Mary Fuller, Cosette Hill, Mike Hurlock, Leith Jasinowski-Kahl, Scott Martinez, Dan Philo, Max Proctor, Alice Thacker, Randy Wilber, Charlie Wilbert and Carl Woeck.
“The volunteers were fantastic and made a great day possible for hundreds of hard-working families to relax and celebrate a important date in union history,” said Local 19 Executive Board member and Trustee Justin Hirsch who helped coordinate the event.
Tacoma picnics at the lake
Local 23 members in Tacoma honored Bloody Thursday with their traditional picnic held at beautiful Spanaway Lake Park, located 15 miles south of Tacoma on 135 acres of forested shoreline.
An estimated 600 family members participated at this year’s event that featured a barbeque lunch where hundreds and dogs and burgers were served. Special attractions provided for children were a big hit, especially the inflatable bounce toys that included a pirate ship. Pony rides were popular with the younger ones, and a local artist painted dozens of faces and arms for both children and adults.
The event was planned and executed by a hard-working team that included Trustees Eric Sowers, Art Jackson, Kyle Copeland, Perry Smith and Dan Witker. Volunteers included Jeff Clowers and Dave Barker who headedthe kids’ games with help from many others. As usual, Local 23 Pensioners were generous about volunteering their time to make the event a success.
Delegates to the ILWU’s 36th convention in Hawaii debated union policy and made plans for the future during five days of meetings that emphasized unity over differences.
History & tradition
The group of 360 delegates joined together with 35 ILWU Pensioner and Auxiliary “fraternal” delegates, along with a host of invited guests. On the opening day, delegates met in the Sheraton Waikiki hotel in Honolulu, Oahu, where ceremonies began with ILWU International President Robert McEllrath inviting Local 142 President Donna Domingo to the podium, thanking her and the host committee for their two years of hard work preparing for the convention.
Domingo explained that they wanted delegates to experience some of Hawaii’s culture and traditions then introduced artist Aaron Sala and Local 142 member Kumu Hula Keola Kapu. The pair offered a traditional Hawaiian blessing for the convention, with Sala recounting an island legend about service, commitment and community that inspired the blessing.
Dozens of musicians from Hawaii’s Royal Band were on hand at the opening ceremony to play the national anthems of the United States, Canada and Panama. The Royal Band is a unique public treasure in Hawaii that was founded 175 years ago by King Kamehameha III, and performs 300 times a year.
ILWU International Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado introduced another special guest, Hawaii Governor David Ige. The Governor welcomed delegates, acknowledged the importance of labor unions, and concluded by recalling the summers he spent working as a young man in a pineapple processing plant where the ILWU contract meant he and other workers were paid fairly.
ILWU International President Robert McEllrath returned to the podium – after receiving a gracious introduction by International Secretary- Treasurer Willie Adams – to deliver a speech outlining his views on the critical issues facing ILWU members.
McEllrath began by thanking his wife and family members who were asked to stand and received a long round of applause, then acknowledged the contributions of his fellow officers: Vice Presidents Ray Familathe and Wesley Furtado, Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams, and Coast Committeemen Ray Ortiz, Jr., and Leal Sundet. He then invited delegates to view a short video featuring dramatic highlights from ILWU struggles during the previous eight years. After the video, he noted that the union could not have endured so many challenges without strong support from rank-and-file members and dedicated local officers.
“If it’s true that fighting in these struggles makes us stronger, then we must be Hercules by now!” said McEllrath. He recalled the frustration of dealing with other unions when ILWU members were locked-out by big grain companies in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s pretty hard to get a contract when other unions are walking through your picket lines,” he noted. McEllrath said the decision to leave the AFL-CIO, initiated by delegates at the previous 2012 convention, was correct, but said ILWU locals should remain active with other unions in their communities. “We are out of the AFL-CIO, but not out of the labor movement,” he reminded delegates.
McEllrath then addressed the recently concluded longshore contract, noting that employers had fired many workers and curtailed operations during the conflict – then blamed workers for the resulting congestion.
The contract settlement doesn’t mean the struggle is over, he said, pointing to new legislation being introduced in Congress that aims to weaken longshore union bargaining power in future contracts.
McEllrath said the proposed legislation would re-write federal labor laws by requiring regular monitoring of production levels at West Coast ports – and give state governors new power to threaten union members with court injunctions in order to maintain productions levels during a contract dispute.
“They’re coming after us, saying ‘you can’t stop work at the ports.’ They want to take away your power on the docks. This is one of the most draconian things that we’ve seen in the labor movement, and we’re going to fight it as long as we can.”
The way forward, said McEllrath, is both simple and challenging because it requires unity and support from all union members: “We’ve all got to do our jobs, maintain our jurisdiction, fight the employers and outsmart them.”
After the President’s speech, convention delegates adjourned to begin working on a committee of their own choosing. Unlike many unions, the ILWU’s democratic tradition allows individual delegates to choose which committee they will serve on. The most popular committees were Resolutions and Constitution & Programs.
Both committees heard a wide variety of proposals for new policies and procedures. In order to be considered for a vote by delegates on the convention floor, proposed resolutions were first required to win support from a majority of local union members or a majority of local union delegates attending the convention. Then each resolution was thoroughly explained, debated, amended and subject to an up or down vote in one of the committees before finally reaching the convention floor.
This requirement meant some committee meetings went late into the night to consider all of the proposed resolutions. A total of 46 proposed resolutions were heard by the Committees and most – but not all – of the proposals went on to the convention floor for further consideration by delegates.
Trade unionists from around the world attended the ILWU convention in Hawaii – part of the union’s long tradition of international solidarity – which included the following special guests:
Chris Cain, Secretary of the Western Branch, Maritime Union of Australia, explained how their union has experienced dynamic growth and involved young members into their leadership. Growing recently from 1,000 to 5,000 members, the Western Branch is being challenged by powerful employers, including Chevron. He noted the need to be politically involved and constantly organizing new members.
Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global network of 700 unions in 150 different countries. Cotton has served as an ITF staffer for 22 years and was recently elected to the top position. Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary for the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) also serves as President of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). In Australia, the MUA is facing an anti-union government that has been waging war against workers.
Rogue operators, including ICTSI, are investing in Australian ports. In the country’s Northwest, giant corporations including Chevron are exploiting the country’s resources, threatening to undermine worker standards, and suing MUA members for over $20 million dollars because of a safety dispute. Crumlin’s leadership at the ITF has helped to coordinate actions on behalf of 4 million workers around the globe.
Joe Fleetwood, General Secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand, recently helped the MUNZ membership conclude a bitter anti-union campaign in which the Ports of Auckland, Limited, sought to “casualize” dockworkers by turning good union jobs into junk jobs. The ILWU and other unions mobilized quickly for solidarity rallies and marches, but the dispute required a three-year battle before an agreement was reached.
Marc Loridan, Federal Secretary for the Ports of Belgium Transport Workers Union, known as the BTB, is a frequent participant in global solidarity efforts but their union faces challenges at home from anti-union politicians who have been pushing a big business agenda to weaken unions, lower labor standards, and give more power to management. In 2013, BTB workers went on strike for 6 days after employers tried to conceal the hiring of nonunion, low-wage workers who were secretly performing union warehouse work near the docks.
Kozo Matsumoto, President of Zenkowan, the All-Japan Dockworkers Union, leads a militant, democratic, and progressive union that recently engaged in a series of one-day port strikes and provided critical support for ILWU Pacific Beach Hotel workers to reach their first contract settlement.
In a gesture that has become an important tradition, President Matsumoto brought a “Friendship and Solidarity Statement” from Zenkowan that was signed by him and ILWU President Robert McEllrath in front of delegates.
Niek Stam, General Secretary of the Dutch dockworkers union (FVN) led a successful 7-year battle to recover pension funds that were stolen from workers through an insurance swindle. With help from the ILWU and other unions, the FVN was able to eventually recover $260 million that helped restore retirement plansfor workers. Stam is also an expert about the impact of new technology on dockworkers because the ports in Holland employ some of the world’s most automated systems Steve Todd, National Secretary of Britain’s Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers’ Union (RMT), assumed his post last year, following the untimely death of Bob Crow, the dynamic militant leader who died suddenly at the age of 52. Now Todd is leading efforts to help British union members in a challenging environment where anti-union politicians are increasingly common.
Each of the special guests was presented with a bronze sculpture of an ILWU cargo hook, hand-crafted by the talented artist and Local 19 pensioner Ron Gustin. He has exhibited work ingalleries up and down the coast, and Produced 16 sculptures that were presented at the convention, each requiring more than a dozen steps to complete the unique works of art.
Global solidarity within the ILWU’s own ranks was demonstrated with exciting growth in the new Panama Division. International Vice President Ray Familathe explained how the connections between the ILWU and Panama Canal Pilots Union were first established during the 2002 lockout, when the ILWU longshore negotiating committee was seeking international support and met Londor Rankin of the Panama Canal Pilots Union. During the years that followed, Familathe and President McEllrath encouraged discussions of a possible alliance, and in September of 2011 the Panama Canal Pilots voted to affiliate with the ILWU and the new Panama Division was established.
The Pilots are now trying to negotiate a new contract with the Panama Canal Authority, which has been resisting a fair settlement. Members of the Pilots Union, including Secretary-General Raniero Salas, explained their contract struggle to convention delegates who responded with a strong showing of support by unanimously adopting a solidarity resolution.
The Panama Division has also been busy building solidarity at home by assisting dockworkers employed by Panama Ports. These dockworkers finally succeeded in forming their own independent union after rejecting a “yellow union” imposed by their employer. Dockworkers had to first win a long fight to hold an election, then found the voting process was rigged in favor of the company’s yellow union. That’s when ILWU leaders joined with the Panama Division to support an honest and open election process. When that finally happened, dockworkers at Panama Ports voted for their own independent SINTRAPORSPA union led by Secretary-General Alberto Ochoa. On December 30, 2014, SINTRAPORSPA and the ILWU signed an affiliation agreement welcoming 2850 dockworkers into the Panama Division.
After explaining this background, Vice President Familathe provided a warm introduction for SINTRAPOR who delivered his remarks in Spanish that were translated by Secretary-General Raniero Salas of the Pilots Union.
Ochoa said he brought greetings from his fellow dockworkers in Panama who just won their first independent union contract that will raise pay by 35% over the next four years, crediting the ILWU Panama Division for helping to make it possible. He noted that Panama Ports, owned by Hong Kong based Hutchinson Port Holdings, had been trying to outsource jobs which will require continued vigilance and support in order to maintain the new union’s jurisdiction.
“The ILWU has been instrumental in growing our union in Panama. We are grateful for the support you have provided us and hope to continue receiving your help which has given us great results,” said Ochoa.
During a break in the convention schedule, a good-natured surfing contest was held between MUA President Paddy Crumlin and ILWU President Bob McEllrath, who both waded into the water at beautiful Waikiki and paddled out to the surf line. They returned after both caught waves and each incurred minor foot injuries from the sharp coral that makes Waikiki waves break so smoothly over the reef. After some debate, Crumlin was declared the contest winner but immediately donated his board to ILWU Local 142 members.
New organizing challenges Convention delegates heard two detailed organizing reports, one for Hawaii and the other covering the mainland, with both emphasizing the challenges involved with organizing new workers.
International Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado delivered the Hawaii organizing report, explaining that 85% of their union campaigns have resulted in a first contract. He also noted that employers are changing tactics to make organizing more difficult by hiring workers online instead of conducting open interviews for new hotels. In the past, union organizers could go to interview sites with clipboards where “one-on-one,” and had union authorization cards ready for workers to sign. Now the union must rely more on family and friends to contact hotel workers who are hired online. Furtado said organizers try to sign up at least 70-80% of the workers in a new shop, to ensure a safe margin and overcome the employer’s anti-union campaigning.
He concluded by recognizing the staff and member organizers of Local 142 who he said have been doing an excellent job. International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe also praised his International organizing team for their hard work and dedication. He noted several recent campaigns that illustrate the challenges and opportunities facing ILWU organizing efforts on the mainland, beginning with a strategic campaign to help recycling industry workers in Alameda County win industry-leading wages and benefits.
He said the effort began with a campaign to improve existing contracts covering more than 200 Local 6 workers, and has now expanded to help non-union workers at Alameda County Industries organize and join the union.
All the campaigns required lengthy, difficult fights with multiple strikes and dozens of job actions, but workers have now secured wages that will soon pay almost $21 an hour with excellent benefits.
Familathe also pointed to joint organizing projects with the Inlandboatmen’s Union, involving strategic targets such as the first successful tugboat organizing campaign on the West Coast in 20 years, and an ongoing campaign to help fuel dock workers organize in Dutch Harbor Alaska. Even campaigns to help small units, such as the Port of Anacortes or workers at Harbor Dental, frequently involve lengthy, complex campaigns to win recognition and first contracts. He noted the recent effort to help workers organize at Catalina Express, where a strong union campaign effort was overwhelmed by aggressive anti-union consultants, concluding that these efforts frequently require multiple campaigns over many years to succeed.
Convention delegates continued debating policy resolutions throughout the remaining hours, but one of the more poignant proposals to reach the floor celebrated seven decades of union service by ILWU member LeRoy King. This was the first convention since the 1940’s that King was unable to attend, so many speakers noted his exceptional absence and praised his lifelong commitment to the union. The resolution honoring King passed unanimously after many heartfelt testimonials, including one from San Francisco IBU Regional Director Marina Secchitano who was unable to hold back tears as she described King’s role as her mentor who taught her about the union that he loved so much. After the resolution passed, King was informed by telephone of the resolution honoring his lifetime of service, while resting in his San Francisco home. The news gave him great comfort and joy, according to Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Fred Pecker, who placed the call just one day before King passed peacefully in his sleep.
Pensioners & Auxiliary
After all the resolutions had been heard, Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams called Pacific Coast Pensioner President Rich Austin, Jr. to the podium, followed by Auxiliary President Ida Taylor. Adams praised both for their leadership and important organizational roles.
Austin, Jr. invited everyone to the upcoming Pensioners Convention in San Francisco on September 7-9, and finished his remarks with a reminder.
“There are a whole lot of people in this world who work hard, but don’t have the ILWU to support them. And that’s our challenge. We’re supposed to organize the unorganized. That’s what we do with our good fortune. We pensioners stand ready, to be of service whenever called upon. Pupukahi holomua – united we progress!”
Ida Taylor thanked the officers and delegates for hosting the convention, and conveyed warm regards from past Auxiliary President Carolyn Williams who was unable to attend this year’s convention. She also thanked everyone who purchased raffle tickets for the beautiful ILWU quilt assembled by Auxiliary volunteers up and down the coast that was raffled on July 5 in Coos Bay Oregon. Taylor said that Auxiliary members will be organizing and educating in the months and years ahead, and encouraged all delegates to “bring your families and have them join our Auxiliary!”
The process of nominating candidates for International office was next on the agenda, with President Robert McEllrath, Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams, Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe and Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado, all being nominated without opposition. Candidates were also nominated for the International Executive Board and Trustee positions. All candidates will appear on a ballot being mailed to members on July 27.
The final round of comments from the floor included words of appreciation from ILWU Canada President Mark Gordienko. He noted that ILWU Canada members will be celebrating their 80th anniversary of the 1935 strike at Ballantyne Pier on June 18. He reminded delegates that the strike itself was broken, but workers went on to form their union and join the ILWU 12 years later. He also said it had been a pleasure to work with the International officers during his term on the Executive Board. He concluded by thanking Local 142 President Donna Domingo and all Local 142 members on behalf of the entire Canadian delegation, saying, “thank you very much for how well you treated us here. It’s been a great= Convention!”
Domingo responded by recognizing John Bush from Local 200 in Alaska, who with members of Local 514 in British Columbia, donated salmon that fed almost 1000 delegates and guests at a BBQ dinner earlier in the week. “With all people coming together, Local 142 was very happy with how the convention turned out,” she said.
As President McEllrath rose to the podium for the last time, he thanked the Hawaii delegation once more for doing such a fine job of planning all the details that made the convention enjoyable, including a memorable banquet, BBQ dinner and cultural evening – plus sightseeing events for spouses. He also called up the staff and volunteers from Local 142 and the International Union to the front of the room where they were recognized for making the convention run smoothly.
“Staying here in Hawaii has been gorgeous,” said McEllrath, “and I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts. It’s the ILWU way that we sometimes get upset at each other. If anybody’s feelings were hurt, I apologize.
But, this is why we’re tough, why we’re the ILWU. We fight it out here, then we go home. And when we go home, we’re united. We’re united right now. We’re going to stay united. So thank you brothers and sisters. This has been a hell of a week. The next convention will be in Portland, Oregon in 2018.”