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International Longshore and Warehouse Union
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The “Old Left” and the Union: Don Watson of Ship Clerks Local 34

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 12:31

From the  ILWU Oral History Project, Volume IX, Part III

  Introduction by Harvey Schwartz

Don Watson (left) with UFW leader Cesar Chavez.

This is the third article in a series featuring ILWU veterans of the “Old Left” who were once active in the American Communist Party (CP). While historians have argued for years about whether Harry Bridges was ever a Communist, not many writers have seriously explored the contributions of ILWU members who actually were in the CP. The present series addresses this oversight.

Don Watson, the focus of this month’s oral history, was a CP member between 1948 and 1956. One would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated adherent to the cause of labor. Watson retired from ship clerks Local 34 in 1993 after years of activist work for the ILWU and other unions, including the Marine Cooks and Stewards (MCS) in the early 1950s and the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s and 1970s. Today he is still helping the ILWU by assisting with the union’s lobbying program at the California state capitol.

Watson chaired the Local 34 executive board for 19 of the 24 years he served on that body. He told me he usually became chair or secretary of any labor committee he joined. Given his integrity and resolve, it is easy to understand why. In 1996 he helped set up the Copra Crane Labor Landmark Association (CCLLA) in San Francisco to preserve an outmoded waterfront device as a monument to the city’s work heritage. True to form, Watson has been the CCLLA secretary-treasurer ever since.

Don Watson has also long been an officer of the Southwest Labor Studies Association. Fittingly, this month he was given that organization’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Labor Movement for his outstanding record of combining union activism with the promotion of working class history.

I interviewed Watson in 1994 and 2004 for the Labor Archives and Research Center (LARC) at San Francisco State University. Thanks to LARC Director Susan Sherwood for releasing that oral history for use here.

DON WATSON

          Edited by Harvey Schwartz, Curator, ILWU Oral History Collection

My father, Morris Watson, was a newspaper man. In the 1920s he worked for the Omaha World Herald and the Denver Post. I was born in 1929 in Evanston, Illinois. My father had a newspaper job there with the Associated Press (AP). Soon after I was born the AP sent my father to New York, where I grew up. In New York my father was considered one of the AP’s best reporters. He covered major stories for the AP like the 1932 kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh’s son.

In 1933 my father read an article by the famous columnist Haywood Broun, who said he wanted to organize a newspaper reporters union. My father heeded Broun’s call and became one of the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) founders. He was also an ANG International vice-president.

During 1933 my father became the lead ANG organizer at the AP’s New York office. In retaliation the AP put him on the “lobster shift” in the middle of the night. They fired him in 1935. So the ANG filed an unfair labor practice charge under the new National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This became one of a group of cases that went to the Supreme Court and resulted in the NLRA being declared constitutional in 1937.

My father also became involved in the New Deal’s Federal Theater Project. He directed “The Living Newspaper,” a theater group that dramatized headlines as plays. This was quite an enterprise in the mid-1930s. Late in the decade my father became active in New York’s left-wing American Labor Party. Consequently I got interested in politics and it became part of my development.

In 1942 Harry Bridges visited New York. He persuaded my father to move out to San Francisco that fall to become the founding editor of the new ILWU newspaper, The Dispatcher. I was 13 years old and Bridges was fascinating. He had this supercharged, forceful personality, was very political and liked to talk about going to sea.

I went to sea myself in the summer of 1946, the year before I graduated from high school in San Francisco. World War II had just ended and the whole world was moving on ships. The first trip I made was on a troop transport, the Marine Jumper. I was a “utility man”—a pot washer and potato peeler. That first trip I sailed as a permit man. I joined the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards (MCS), CIO in 1948. The AFL and the CIO were still separate rival organizations then.

I really got involved in political activity around ’48. I met people in the MCS who were Communists. I’d read the famous Communist William Z. Foster’s big book on labor, including the 1919 steel strike he’d been in. I thought Communists were good trade unionists and felt that I’d like to work along with them.

In 1948 Henry Wallace ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Wallace campaigned for peace with Russia and got enthusiastic support from the Left. I handed out Progressive Party leaflets, went to meetings, signed people up on petitions and did anything needed to help Wallace.

The MCS officially endorsed Wallace, but late in the campaign I noticed all these MCS members wearing Truman buttons. That didn’t seem good. On election day Harry Truman, the Democratic president, upset Thomas Dewey, the favored Republican. Unfortunately for the Left, Wallace did poorly.

I was also involved with the MCS Pre-Strike Committee in 1948. The MCS was allied with the ILWU and struck along with the longshoremen that year. President Truman slapped on an 80-day injunction to stop the strike under the new Taft-Hartley Act. I went to sea on the General Gordon during the injunction. When I got back, the strike was on. I sold the CP newspaper, The People’s World, at all the picket lines that dotted the San Francisco waterfront.

In 1950 I was at sea on the President Cleveland when the Korean War broke out. This right-wing guy named Randall called a special stewards meeting. He attacked the MCS leaders because they questioned the war, as did Bridges. I got up at the meeting and defended the MCS officers by saying they had done a lot for the people and we should listen to them.

I made two trips to the Pacific on the President Cleveland. The second time I was “screened” off the ship when the Cleveland returned to San Francisco. Screening was part of the government’s McCarthy era program of denying employment to leftist seamen and even politically moderate maritime union activists. The program was administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

While I was disappointed, I knew that the Coast Guard had extended its screening to the Far East, but not to the area between San Francisco and Hawaii. So I got a job on the Lurline run to the Islands. After the third trip about 15 of us were screened at once. We came down the gangplank and had our pictures taken.

The Coast Guard held hearings on Sansome Street in San Francisco to review screenings. I gathered six to eight stewards to come to my hearing. Some of them vouched for me. But the Coast Guard hearing officer just went through the motions.

I got involved with the Committee Against Waterfront Screening. Even though I was young, about 21, I was elected secretary. The committee chair was Albert James, a Black longshore leader from ILWU Local 10. We held our meetings at the MCS hall in San Francisco. People from the ILWU and other maritime unions came.

I did the day-to-day work for the committee. I’ve found through the years that whenever I got on a committee I usually became chair or secretary very rapidly. Generally this happened because nobody else wanted to do the work with as much devotion as me.

The big activity we had was a daily picket line at the Coast Guard headquarters. Every day I supplied the leaflet. One I wrote in early 1951 says, “Screening since July 1950 has denied thousands of maritime workers on both coasts the right to work.” Sometimes I’d have a whole leaflet on some individual case. I also wrote about various ships cracking in two to show that the Coast Guard was spending more time screening seamen than working for safety.

We kept up our daily picketing for months. Some of the screened seamen got longshore work. The dispatchers at ILWU Local 10 would call the MCS hall when they had extra jobs. For a while we even got dispatched out of the ILWU Local 2 ship scalers hall.

In 1951 I was drafted into the Army. I was sent to Fort Ord, California, for basic training. They had these “Information and Education” sessions, really political talks. This one guy described what he called the Communist conspiracy. He had a chart of this Communist octopus that was going after our country and Harry Bridges was a major portion of his talk. And I’m just sitting there.

I didn’t discuss politics and I did all the marches and all the basic training. But that October I got a letter from the Department of Defense that contained what they called “derogatory information” about me and my parents. One charge said, “Your father is a Communist who has been active in Communist affairs since 1935.” They gave me 30 days to make a rebuttal in writing.

I went with my father to the attorneys for the ILWU and we did make a response. Part of it said, “If it is the policy of the U.S. Army to set sons against their parents, I do not intend to follow that policy.” Finally I was given a questionable “General Discharge under Honorable Conditions,” although I had done every assignment the Army gave me. Some years later, after a class-action suit, they sent me a revised “Honorable Discharge” and told me to destroy the other form.

After the Army I came back to the Bay Area and started doing the same things I was doing before I went in. Over the next two years I worked for the Independent Ironworks in Oakland, but as soon as the day was over I’d go down to the MCS hall to see what was happening. I still went to meetings and volunteered to help the seamen.

In 1950 the MCS had been expelled from the CIO for its left politics. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) called a bargaining election in 1954, but removed the MCS from the ballot because the top MCS officers didn’t comply with the non-Communist affidavits then called for under the Taft-Hartley Act. To support their officers the members voted “no union.”

A new NLRB election was called the next year and this time the ILWU stepped in to appear on the ballot. The stewards voted ILWU. However, the NLRB allowed other West Coast unlicensed seamen to vote in the same election, burying the ILWU vote. During the campaign Bob Robertson, the ILWU vice-president, asked me to help with a stewards’ edition of The Dispatcher. I put a lot of effort into it, but all was lost due to the politics of the time.

In 1955 I decided I would like to be an ILWU ship clerk. I didn’t have a strong upper body, so clerking seemed better than longshoring for me. Emmett Gilmartin, the clerks’ assistant dispatcher, gave me a permit card. This saved me because the dispatcher, Jim Roche, did not like screened seamen. But Roche was on vacation. When he returned Roche dispatched me anyway, although I was not his favorite.

There were many types of clerk jobs in the mid-1950s. Every ship had a different amount and kind of cargo. Today most of the work involves containers. But the time I’m talking about was even before the extensive use of palletized loads and lift trucks, which became the dominant features on the waterfront in the 1960s.

In unloading 1955-style the clerk told the longshoremen where to put the cargo. A ship’s crane would unload sling loads of cargo from the hatch to the dock where they would be placed on a series of four-wheel trucks. These four-wheelers were attached to a vehicle called a “bull.” The bull driver would haul the four-wheelers inside the dock where longshoremen would grab cases and put them where the clerk instructed.

At times there would be a cornucopia of goods for us to sort. We used to have piles of boxes all over Pier 29 of various sizes and types. The dock would end up looking like a Woolworth store. We had to build aisles or put small lots of cargo back-to-back or put large lots in piles. You had to figure out how much space was needed and where to put things. If you did it wrong, everybody would come down on you.

A major part of the job was receiving and delivery of cargo on and off trucks and rail cars. A clerk supervisor at the front of the dock would assign an arriving Teamster to drive to a section where he loaded or unloaded. When a clerk received cargo he counted it carefully. Then he would chalk mark the pile, including his count and the name of the loading ship.

In 1955 Jim Roche was the power in Local 34. He was the clerks’ dispatcher who did not like screened seamen. Roche didn’t like Black people either and wouldn’t dispatch them. He was a baseball fan. He was known for bringing in White ex-ballplayers and dispatching them to jobs.

An opposition faction arose around Jim Herman when Roche got sick about 1960. This was when Herman emerged into leadership. He was very articulate, lined up a following and got elected local vice-president and then president. He made some dramatic changes, like seeing that a good amount of Blacks came into the local. I was in a lunch group that supported Herman in the early 1960s.

About this time I got active politically in the California Democratic Council (CDC). I’d left the Communist Party in 1956 after Khrushchev’s famous speech criticizing Stalin was followed by the Russian invasion of Hungary. That told me the Party was not going to change. I felt relieved by my decision, which actually came when the CP wanted to advance me toward leadership. Instead I joined the Young Democrats and then the CDC. In both organizations we backed the election to public office of up and coming candidates like Phil and John Burton and Willie Brown.

Around ’62 the ILWU set up its own political group, the West Bay Legislative Committee. Bill Chester was the chair. I was elected vice-chair because they wanted a clerk in the post. In the late 1960s I ran for election to the Local 34 executive board. I made it on the second try and served for 24 years, including 19 as chair.

Jim Herman and I were both from the MCS and had fought the screening program. We also both actively supported the farm worker union movement in the 1960s and that became the basis of our relationship. In the mid-1960s Whitey Kelm and Herb Mills of Local 10 started a five-dollar-a-month club in support of the farm workers organizing drive. I’d met Dolores Huerta, the vice-president of the United Farm Workers (UFW), and had been impressed. I joined the club. It lapsed and I started it up again. Herman was very helpful and the local gave me sort of an official status.

Starting in 1967 or ’68 Local 34 had yearly Christmas collections for the UFW. As the head of this effort I’d go around to every pier on the waterfront and collect money from the clerks and longshoremen. The overwhelming majority gave. This continued into the mid-1970s. We also had a monthly labor caravan that brought food and money to the UFW headquarters in Delano, California.

I was so involved with the UFW that I became kind of an honorary farm worker. During the 1970 lettuce strike in Salinas I walked the UFW picket lines. In the early 1970s I started putting in only 800 hours a year on the waterfront. I spent most of my time helping the farm workers. I was very close to the UFW’s San Francisco boycott house and volunteered many hours there. Often I would care for Dolores Huerta’s children while she led UFW demonstrations or spoke publicly.

During the 1971 coast longshore strike Herman called for a Local 10/Local 34 Joint Longshore Strike Assistance Committee (JLSAC). He said, “I want Watson to be the secretary.” That was it. Everybody agreed and I became the secretary. While the strike was on I went to a UFW rally in Sacramento. I asked Marshall Ganz and Jim Drake, two farm worker leaders, if there was a little something they could do for our strikers. They said, “I think so.”

The next thing I knew they put together this huge caravan, which was really a payback. This long grape truck came to the San Francisco waterfront from the Central Valley. There were several trucks from Salinas. They had all this produce. Maybe 150 farm workers arrived too. They visited the Local 34 hall and then went down to Local 10. It became a giant event.

This more than anything else made my waterfront reputation.  I was the secretary of the JLSAC, and all of a sudden this help came, and it was on such a vast scale. It took hours just to unload those trucks. While I got the credit within the ILWU, the farm workers really outdid themselves. I was amazed.

Around 1975 I started doing a lot of volunteer research for the UFW legal office in Salinas. This returned me to an interest in labor history. I did research papers on fruit tramp shed workers from the 1930s to 1970 and on lettuce mechanization. I interviewed farm workers, union activists and growers and made presentations to meetings of the Southwest Labor Studies Association.

My interest in farm worker history led me to co-found the Bay Area Labor History Workshop (BALHW) in 1980 with a scholar and UFW volunteer named Margo McBane. I had little academic training and was working in isolation without much feedback. If you don’t have that, you need some kind of a forum for discussion. If you want something and there’s no organization, you go ahead and organize it yourself. That’s what I did, and the BALHW is still going strong today.

In 1978 I became the Local 34 delegate to the ILWU’s regional political arm, the Northern California District Council (NCDC).  Four years later NCDC President LeRoy King asked me to take on the job of NCDC secretary-treasurer and this broadened to include legislative lobbying at the state capitol in Sacramento. I remained with these duties until I retired in 1993.

Although I’m thankful that ILWU longshore members and retirees have good medical and pension plans, others are not so lucky. We are all facing ongoing privatization, deregulation and tax cuts, along with growing state and national deficits, all of which hurt working people. That’s why I’ve decided to continue to offer my lobbying skills to help the ILWU program in Sacramento.

Categories: Unions

Recycling workers celebrate two years of success

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 12:06

Pledging support: ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe pledged to continue supporting the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling.

Hundreds of Alameda County recycling workers filled the Local 6 union hall on March 1 to celebrate two years of hard work that yielded dramatic improvements in wages, benefits and working conditions –and opened the door to helping new workers organize and join the ILWU.

Like the historic “Alameda County Recycling Workers Convention” held in the same location two years ago, the room was filled again with family members, community supporters and political allies who came to celebrate the string of remarkable organizing victories by workers at the largest recycling operators in Alameda County.

Recycling worker Alejandra León co-chaired the event with fellow recycling worker Pedro Sanchez. Both did an excellent job and conducted most of the event in Spanish – the language preferred by a majority of recycling workers – but simultaneous professional translation services were offered with headphones to everyone attending.

Blessings

Monsignor Antonio Valdivia provided an inspirational blessing to begin the event. He started by recalling that his own father had been a longtime member of Local 6, and used to bring home copies of the ILWU’s Dispatcher newspaper, which little Antonio would read out loud for his father who was unable to read. Monsignor Valdivia concluded by speaking to all the children in the room, asking them to respect how hard their parents are working at difficult jobs in order to provide bread for their families.

Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Fred Pecker added his welcome, thanking workers and special guests. He recounted the many accomplishments made during the past two years, explaining, “you’ve done so much good work to make life better for hundreds of workers employed in this industry – but many more recyclers are still suffering, and we’re now in a better position to help them.

Superhero support

A surprise visit was paid by the superhero, “Recycle Woman,” who appeared at the event in brightly-colored tights and a cape, played by Jessica Robinson. After greeting the audience, she led the children into a back room where she shared games that taught “zero waste” recycling skills for the children to use at home and school.
Solidarity from Brazil & Colombia

Environmental organizer Christie Keith of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) brought a message of solidarity and support from recycling workers in Colombia, Brazil and other members of the Latin America Recyclers Network. She noted that all recycling workers share a common bond for the important environmental work that they perform – and the struggle for justice required to gain recognition and respect.  GAIA organizer Monica Wilson, who serves on the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling Steering Committee, also attended.

ILWU officials

ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe and Secretary- Treasurer Willie Adams were both on hand to lend support and encouragement. Familathe, who oversees the union’s organizing efforts, said the

International union has supported the recycler organizing project for years because it has been a good way to help workers in a partnership with Local 6. He offered his continued support and encouraged workers to maintain their organizing efforts.

Alejandra León thanked Willie Adams for appearing two years ago at the first Recyclers Convention, where he predicted: “This campaign that we’re taking on, won’t be won by speeches – it will be won by working with allies, partners and a strong commitment.”

León thanked him for supporting the project and said his words two years ago had been “prophetic.” Adams spoke briefly, thanking workers for keeping faith in themselves and their union.

Key role by workers

The heart of the event was led by workers who shared short stories about the struggles they have endured during the past two years, fighting for better wages and benefits.

“Two years ago, we came here to make a plan for improving our recycling jobs. We set a goal for better pay that some people – including some officials from the Teamster and Machinists union – told us was ‘too much, too soon.’ But we didn’t back down, and today are celebrating the many victories that came from everyone’s hard work,” said León, as she and Pedro Sanchez began introducing workers who briefly shared their stories. Josefa Solano from BLT in Fremont explained how they became the first group of recycling workers to win raises and benefits that meet the new standard. Dinora Jordan from Waste Management told of a long, difficult but ultimately successful struggle by workers against one of the largest waste companies in the world.

Jose Gomez from ACI explained how workers overcame minimum wages, no benefits, no union and disrespect for immigrant workers to join Local 6. He reported that co-workers are now negotiating an ILWU contract that meets the “Alameda County Recycling Worker Standard” calling for “sorters” to earn $20.94 by 2019 along with affordable family health benefits.

Community support

“We couldn’t do all this by ourselves,” said Pedro Sanchez, who said the room was full of “compañeros” who supported the “causa” of improving conditions for recyclers. A group of special guests was then recognized and thanked – each receiving the gift of a commemorative framed poster signed by recycling workers.

Legal action

Attorney Emily Maglio from the Leonard Carder law firm was recognized for helping ACI workers prevail in a class-action lawsuit that was recently settled for $1.1 million and will provide many workers with significant back-pay awards. Workers Ignacia Garcia, Maria Granados Flores and Griselda Mora were named on the lawsuit were recognized and thanked for their courage.

Political leadership

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer was congratulated for hearing the concerns of recycling workers who have appeared before the City Council several times to provide updates and seek support for improvements at ACI, which provides recycling services for Alameda residents.

Recycler Ruben Ramos introduced Fremont City Councilmember Vinnie Bacon and thanked him for taking leadership to protect the environment and promote worker justice. Fremont was the first city in Alameda County to help workers reach the new pay and benefit standard. Oakland City Council member Dan Kalb was congratulated for supporting the fight to improve recycling services for Oakland residents and help workers win better working conditions.

Local leadership

Recycling and waste expert Ruth Abbe was honored for her service to the campaign, including her continuing role on the Steering Committee of the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling.Abbe also plays a leadership role in the Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee and has been providing workers with invaluable advice. Other environmental support for the campaign has been offered by the Center for Environmental Health.

Community organizer Brooke Anderson, affiliated with the Movement Generation network, ran to the podium to accept her award for supporting the recycling worker campaign. She has organized workshops to train workers about the economics of the recycling industry, and serves on the Steering Committee of the Campaign for Sustainable Recycling. Other community support has been provided by Oakland’s East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE). Recycler Mirella Jauragui congratulated staff from the University of California’s Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP) for providing excellent health and safety training sessions to hundreds of recycling workers. LOHP staffers Suzanne Teran, Dinorah Barton-Antonio and Valeria Velasquez were recognized for their important work. Additional workplace safety advocacy and support has been provided by the Worksafe! organization.

Faith community

The final honors were reserved for Pastor Pablo Morataya of the Primera Inglesia Prebisteriana Hispana in Oakland. A key ally in the campaign to help workers, Pastor Morataya hosted the campaign’s first major community outreach event in November, 2013, where political leaders from Oakland agreed to pledge their support for improving conditions for recycling workers. He has also been a strong advocate for immigrant workers at ACI who were threatened with discrimination and firings.

Other important support for ACI workers from the faith community has been provided by Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Other faith community leadership for the recycler’s campaign has been provided by Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, Kristi Laughlin and Servant B.K. Woodson of the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy (FAME).

The afternoon event concluded with music – featuring the beautiful voices of Pedro Sanchez and Gustavo Nuñez, who also played keyboard. Family members of Rosa Delia Pérez provided the “DJ” service and more music. A buffet dinner was provided for all family members and guests.

Organizing continues

ACI worker José Delgadillo probably summed up the feelings of many in the room, when he said: “All of us who work at ACI have seen how much Local 6 and the ILWU have done to help us. We can now see that a better life is possible – not just for us, but for other recyclers who can win if we help them.”

Categories: Unions

Frank Billeci, former Local 34 President passes

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 15:21

Former ILWU Local 34 President Frank Billeci died on February 1 at the age of 79. Frank was a member of Local 34 for 42 years and served his local in several positions starting in 1969 when he was elected to the Local 34 Investigating Committee.

In 1971 he was elected to the Local 34 Labor Relations Committee and in 1973 was a delegate to the Longshore Caucus and Convention. He also served on the International Executive Board and the ILWU Container Freight Station Committee. In1977, Frank was elected Vice President of Local 34 and after six months, he assumed the office of Local 34 President when Jimmy Herman was elected ILWU International President.

He served as Local 34 President until 1989 when he took a break from elected office to return to the docks and work on projects with the International. He was again elected Local 34 President in 1994 and served in that position until his retirement in 1999.

After retiring, Frank spent time with his wife and family. He enjoyed following his favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and San Francisco 49ers, camping on the Sacramento River, fishing with his son and being a grandfather.

“Frank’s dedication to his work and the ILWU family was unsurpassed,” said Local 34 Secretary-Treasurer Allen Fung. “He never made himself the spotlight; instead he was always the one to give others the opportunity to shine. If there is one word that can be used to remember Frank, that word would be ‘integrity.’”

Frank is survived by Joan, his wife of 44 years, his daughter Tina, his son, Roger, his sister, Rose, and four grandchildren: Peter, Nathan, Lauren and Caroline.

Categories: Unions

SF approves redevelopment of historic 1930s-era longshoremen’s hall

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 15:07

The Men Along the Shore: Local 10 member Felipe Riley presented
the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
with materials on the history of the ILWU
published by the union.

. The building located at 110 The Embarcadero on the City’s waterfront will become the permanent headquarters of The Commonwealth Club of California. The 112-year old public affairs forum bought the building two-years ago but the project has been delayed by a neighborhood group that opposed the project.

The building was the headquarters for the longshoreman during the City’s historic 1934 waterfront strike and was the site of pitched battles between workers, police and private security forces. Two workers, Nicholas Bordois and Howard Sperry, were shot and killed by police on Bloody Thursday—July 5th, 1934. Their bodies laid in the longshoremen’s hall until their funeral. The deaths of Bordois and Sperry rallied public support for the strikers and eventually sparked a four-day general strike in San Francisco.

The building has been vacant for years. A previous development project, which was ultimately rejected by the Board Supervisors, proposed tearing down the building entirely and replacing it with a high-rise condominium project. The ILWU passed a resolution at its convention in 2009 opposing that project.

The Commonwealth Club reached out to the ILWU from the outset of the new project and wanted to ensure that the building’s history would be appropriately honored. The façade on Steuart Street, where the longshoreman occupied the building, will be restored to its original 1934 appearance.

The building’s history will also be commemorated with a plaque on the outside and a historical exhibit inside. The side of the building facing the Embarcadero, which no longer bears and resemblance to its 1930s character, will be replaced with a modern curtain-wall façade.

Local 10 member Felipe Riley, Bay Area pensioner John Fisher and ILWU historian Harvey Schwartz spoke in favor of the project because of the Commonwealth Club’s commitment to honoring the history of the ILWU and the important role the 1934 waterfront strike played in the City’s history.

The Commonwealth Club will be working with the ILWU to design the marker and exhibit detailing the building’s history that will be seen by thousands of people attending the Club’s events every year.

Categories: Unions

Portland ILWU members march against “Fast Track” and the TPP

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 11:19

United team: Local 8 member Creg Carse, casual Nichole Bosler-Lenhart, members Matt Theisen and Barry Price joined
a Portland protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on March 9th. The latest free trade deal is being promoted by
corporations and their friends in Congress. ILWU convention delegates voted to oppose the TPP in 2012, and members have
participated in many protests since.

ILWU members in Portland joined other union and community activists on March 9 to protest the latest “free trade” agreement, called the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP). Corporate interests are trying to ram the deal through Congress using a process known as “Fast Track” – the same tactic used to streamline passage of the NAFTA with Mexico and subsequent deals with Colombia and Korea.

Fast Track farce

To pass the controversial “free trade” deal, corporate-friendly legislators are proposing the Fast Track maneuver that was originally created during the Nixon-era to expand Presidential powers and weaken Congressional oversight of international agreements. While the U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority over trade legislation, and it makes sense to delegate some power to the President to negotiate new deals, it makes no sense to allow the President to do so in secret, without any accountability for meeting negotiating goals set by Congress.

Under Fast Track, Congress must limit debate to just 90 days and then conduct a simple majority, “yes” or “no” vote without allowing any changes or amendments. Corporate goodies Like NAFTA, the TPP is being sold with claims that it will expand trade, create jobs and include “labor and environmental protections” in order to win votes from Congressional Democrats. But unions say these claims amount to little more than window dressing, and fail to address all of the corporate deals concealed inside the secret pact. These include generous patent and intellectual property protections that generally benefit the 1% at the expense of everyone else, especially the working class.

Keeping secrets

The actual TPP agreement is cloaked in secrecy. Even members of Congress who wish to view the text are required to read it in a secure room, are not allowed to take notes, and cannot bring a staffer with them. The secure room is filled with “experts” from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office – the agency responsible for negotiating and promoting the agreement.

Threat to U.S. laws

The TPP includes provisions for bypassing national sovereignty –allowing U.S. laws to be challenged by corporations who claim our laws amount to unfair trade barriers. This can be used to file claims against environmental protection laws, “Buy American” contract preferences, and public investment programs to promote new energy and transportation industries. Such claims would be reviewed by a three person binding arbitration panel. The ramification is that a multi-national corporation could sue for damages if they believe a U.S. law is cutting into their profit margin.

Money & politics

Corporations hoping to benefit from the TPP have been making campaign donations to Senate and House members in order to influence votes on the trade pact. As with previous “free trade” agreements, this deal has exposed a fault-line in Congress that pits corporate- friendly Republicans and Democrats against progressives and labor allies. Groups outside Congress that oppose Fast Track include National Nurses United, the Sierra Club, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen and the AFL-CIO. Leading proponents include anti-union business lobbies such as the National Retail Federation, Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.

Friends & foes

Last year, 152 House Democrats, including James Clyburn (the third most powerful Democrat in the House) and former California representative George Miller signed letters opposing fast track. Senate minority leader Harry Reid has independently expressed his opposition to Fast Track. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has avoided taking a clear position, in the same way she did before backing NAFTA in 1993, but she recently expressed concerns about Fast Track when speaking to members of the Steelworkers Union.

Pelosi’s second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, also claims to be “undecided” but tipped his hand in late January by declaring that Fast Track could pass despite opposition from many fellow Democrats.

He went on to assert that previous free trade deals have been “good for the country and for workers.” Former Clinton Labor Secretary and NAFTA booster Robert Reich has flipped sides and now opposes Fast Track and the TPP, which he calls a “corporate Trojan horse.” And two famous Nobel Prize-winning economists, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stieglitz, recently announced their opposition, as did prominent free trade economist Jeffrey Sachs.

ILWU Opposes TPP

At the 35th International Convention of the ILWU in 2012, delegates passed a resolution opposing the TPP, and this resolution continues to guide ILWU policy.

Horrors in Colombia

The passage of the Colombian Free Trade agreement in 2012 has been devastating for longshoremen in that South American nation. Public docks have been privatized and union workers bypassed. Labor provisions in the free trade agreement were supposed to protect workers’ rights, but have proven ineffective. Assassinations, death threats and anti-worker paramilitaries continue to operate in Colombia with impunity. Port operators have bypassed the union in favor of hiring directly off the street. Workers have been forced to live inside containers on the docks when they aren’t needed to load or unload vessels.

Union members who resist these abuses have been blacklisted and union officials are receiving death threats. Some longshoremen have been forced to sign letters promising that they won’t join the union.

More nightmares?

The proposed TPP provides a “docking mechanism” that allows additional nations to join after the deal is enacted. Vietnam is of particular concern because it is illegal in that country to form an independent union, and persons who do so can be imprisoned. Similar concerns could apply to other nations, including Burma – renamed “Myanmar” by the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1962 to 2011.

What we can do

To help stop Fast Track and the TPP, call your Senators and Representatives by dialing 855-712-8441 and let them know:

• The TPP is bad for America.

• Fast Track authority should be opposed.

• You will not re-elect any politician who sells out workers and our country.

Many members of Congress are already doing the right thing by opposing Fast Track and the TPP, such as U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio. More grassroots pressure can help others make the same choice. An injury to one is an injury to all.

– Matt Theisen, Local 8

Categories: Unions

Panamanian longshore workers join the ILWU

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 16:27

Building solidarity: ILWU President Bob McEllrath led a solidarity delegation to Panama in September 2011, part of an ongoing effort to support maritime workers there. Dockworkers in this photo have since changed their union’s name to SINTRAPORSPA, affiliated with the ILWU Panama Canal Division and won a fouryear
contract in December that will improve pay and working conditions at Panama Ports – a subsidiary of the powerful Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Port Holdings.

Panama City, Panama – You see a lot of parked taxis in the parking lot at the Panama Ports terminal here. They’re not waiting to give rides to longshoremen. Dockworkers themselves are the drivers.

Longshore wages in Panama are so low that after a shift driving a crane, a longshoreman has to put in another shift driving a taxi, just to survive.

At Panama Ports, however, this situation has begun to change. In December the union signed an historic new contract with raises totaling more than 27% over the next four years.

One factor that made this agreement possible was support from the ILWU International Union. Because of it the Panamanian union SINTRAPORSPA, the Union of Workers at Panama Ports has decided to become the newest member of the ILWU’s Panama Canal Division. “Because we affiliated with the ILWU, things have changed,” says Alberto Ochoa, SINTRAPORSPA’s Secretary General. “Now our relationship with the company is more equal. We have greater strength at work, and our contract shows it.”

The Panama Canal Pilots, ILWU International President Bob McEllrath and Vice-President Ray Familathe began coordinating the latest affiliation agreement with Panama’s longshore workers belonging to SINTRAPORSPA.

ILWU President Bob McEllrath collaborated closely with Familathe to implement their vision of growing the Panama Division. McEllrath and Familathe traveled to Panama with fluent Spanish- speaker Greg Mitre, President of the Southern California Pensioners’ Group, to build union-to-union relationships.

“Our union is committed to defending the rights of all workers, and the Panama Division is the result of that commitment,” McEllrath says Panama Division growth

When the Panama Division was established in 2012, ILWU President Bob McEllrath explained, “With so many employers now going global, it’s critical for workers around the globe to join forces and work together.”

The division has now grown much larger, to include 2580 Panama Ports longshore workers. The symbol of the ILWU has also been updated. It used to be a map of North America with a picture of Hawaii, showing the union’s strength in U.S. and Canadian ports and in the islands. The symbol now includes a new element – a map of Panama.

According to Capt. Rainiero Salas, the Panama Canal Pilots’ Union secretary general, “The Panama Division is growing as workers see what we can gain by working together, and it’s not going to stop here.”

The new Panama Ports longshore contract didn’t come easily. Panama Ports is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based corporation Hutchinson Port Holdings Limited (HPH).

There was a “yellow” or company union at the terminal there for many years. Ochoa and other independent minded workers had a long history of trying to change it. Finally they organized SINTRAPORSPA. They collected over 2000 signatures on a petition for recognition, and asked for a government-administered election to certify the union as workers’ bargaining representative.

Dockworkers knew how many votes they had lined up, and challenged the transparency of the election. The Ministry of Labor claimed that 1500 workers had cast ballots against SINTRAPORSPA. The President of Panama himself, Juan Carlos Varela, is a partner in the law firm used by Panama Ports, that specializes in helping company management fight unions.

“When we went to the ministry to protest the crooked election, they did everything they could to stop us,” recalls Ramiro Cortez, another SINTRAPORSPA leader. “Nevertheless, it was obvious that we had the support of the great majority of the workers, including those who belonged to the company union.”

Ochoa and Cortez made an appeal to the ILWU, and Familathe and Mitre flew to Panama City and met with the Minister of Labor, Luis Ernesto Carles Rudy. They brought with them a letter signed by six U.S. Congress members, asking for a transparent process.

The government agreed to rerun the election, and in a fair vote SINTRAPORSPA won overwhelmingly. “The support from the ILWU was very effective in meeting with the Minister of Labor, and getting the second union election,” Cortez says. “The Panamanian authorities were never concerned about how they conducted themselves with us before that. Powerful companies, with the money at their disposal, got whatever that money could buy.”

The impact of that support was also felt in the subsequent contract negotiations, which only took a month to reach an agreement. In one meeting the company executive president even told union negotiators that he was “very concerned” at the union’s growing relationship with the ILWU. The contract itself is now the first agreement between an ILWU affiliate and Panama Ports a subsidiary of Hutchinson Port Holdings.

Danger & low pay

That agreement will have a big impact on the lives of longshoremen and their families in two areas especially – economics and safety. In Panama they call longshore pay “hunger wages.” Workers’ families live below the government’s own poverty line, and some families literally go hungry.

“That’s one reason why the company had to constantly hire new workers,” Cortez says. “Most people who got jobs here were just working while they were actually looking for better jobs somewhere else.” An agreement that raises wages therefore helps to stabilize the workforce, which can make the terminal more productive.

It also impacts safety. “Many accidents in the port could have been avoided if the workers weren’t so exhausted,” he explains. “They go in at 7AM, and leave at 8PM, and then go and drive or do some other job.”

The port does have a high accident rate, and two workers were killed a month apart at the end of last year. But the contract is also changing how safety issues are handled. In one accident, a crane lifting a container hit a six-high stack of boxes that were being stored on the dock, right next to the ship. As they fell, one hit a 22-year-old man who’d been working less than a month.

Cortez was called by the workers, and on arrival met with the crane operator who was in shock and crying, and stopped managers from interrogating him until he got representation and counseling. Then Cortez and other union leaders met with management and viewed the video of the accident. They told the company that all workers were traumatized by what happened, and should be sent home. If not, the union itself would shut down the terminal, they said. In the end, management sent the shift home with pay for the day.

When Cortez announced the agreement to the workers, they applauded. “I could have been elected president of the republic that day,” he says. “It had never happened before.”

When Familathe and Mitre explained how similar events are handled in Los Angeles, Cortez said he wanted to come and see for himself. The new union contract establishes five committees, the most important of which is safety. The union then created three new positions, and appointed a high-voltage technician to serve as secretary of the safety committee.

“The challenge is now to implement the contract and ensure that the company abides by it, so that the workers actually benefit from it,” President Ochoa emphasizes. “Before the company did what it pleased, and changed the hours, overtime, days off, and wages, whenever it wanted. Now they know we’re not on our own, by ourselves.

They didn’t look on our relationship with the ILWU with friendly eyes, because they knew you would back us up. Companies don’t want real unions because we open the eyes of the workers, and we can win respect.”

Opportunities to grow

Ochoa has another vision as well – that the Panama Division will expand. “Unions in the ports and the Canal should get together so that we can speak with one voice, and get better benefits and respect for the workers,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to realize this dream.”

It may not be so far off. The same day Familathe and Mitre concluded the affiliation process for SINTRAPORSPA they also drove across the isthmus to meet with the union for dockers in Colon on the Atlantic, the Union of Workers at the Manzanillo International Terminal. The MIT terminal is operated by SSA Marine.

Workers told the ILWU leaders that crane operators work 8-hour days, for six days straight. For that, their pay starts at $854 a month. Here also the workers rebelled against a former union leadership they viewed as too close to the company, and elected a new slate a few months ago. “They see the improvements SINTRAPORSPA was able to make, and they want the same thing,” said Familathe.

Goals for the future

The ILWU in Panama represents the interests of workers by advocating progressive policies on wages, trade and labor rights, while effectively defending workers on the job every day. The Panama Division is supporting pilots in their fight to ensure that the huge ships that pass through the Canal every day are operated safely.

The Canal Authority has launched a huge expansion project, building new locks capable of handling giant post- Panamax container ships carrying up to 13,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). The pilots union has criticized the government for not working closely with the union in designing the work rules and procedures for safely handling these larger ships in the new locks. It is especially concerned over a new unilateral government directive that for the first time seeks to have ships pass each other in the narrow, but widened, Culebra Cut. Previously, ships traveling in opposite directions have waited, so that only one ship at a time traverses the cut.

In October Capt. Salas spoke out publicly. “It seems very odd that the most experienced people moving ships through this highly important system have been completely ignored by its governing authority,” he charged.

“At Panama Canal Pilots (PCP), our most critical mission is ship safety, yet we’ve not been consulted.” Panamanian port and maritime unions are also concerned at the government’s efforts to decertify the union for the tugboat captains in the canal. They fear that the same legal technicalities could be used to attack the representation rights of other unions as well. That could undermine longshore unions just as they are at the point where they are changing the basic living standards of workers.

“Our main objective as a union was to make a difference in the economic status of our members, especially those who earned least, the longshoremen,”

Ochoa declares. “I’m not saying that what we’ve been able to achieve in this new contract will give us a wage that will pay for everything. But it’s a lot better than what we had before. And our responsibility as a union is to keep struggling to win better conditions, especially economic ones.”

– David Bacon

Categories: Unions

ILWU solidarity marchers fill San Pedro streets

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:25

Over 6,000 ILWU members and their families, along with community supporters and elected officials marched and rallied through the streets of San Pedro on January 22. The dramatic showing of unity and solidarity was organized by LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino to protest the employers’ cutting of night-time workers that has compounded severe congestion problems at the ports of LA and Long Beach.

“The PMA’s action in further cutting night shifts at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is another step closer to a lockout,” Buscaino said in press release before the rally. “It will only serve to worsen the slowdown and congestion at the ports, disrupt the global supply chain, and result in irreparable damage to the reputation of our ports complex.”

Marchers gathered near the Vincent Thomas Bridge on Harbor Boulevard and Beacon. As the sun set, thousands of longshore workers headed down Harbor Boulevard towards the rally point outside the Maritime Museum. The 30-minute march was led by students from Banning High School’s “Mighty Marching Pilots” band. The mood was spirited as parents marched hand-in-hand with their children. Marchers carried glow sticks which gave the event a festive atmosphere.

Hundreds of people carried the same support signs that have been posted by local business owners in shop windows throughout the harbor; they read: “We Support the ILWU and the ILWU Supports Us.”

ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe, Coast Committeeman Ray Ortiz, Jr. spoke at the rally along with Southern California representatives from the Negotiating Committee and Safety Sub-Committee who all flew down from the contract negotiations in San Francisco to attend the event.
International Vice President Ray

Familathe said the ILWU family would remain strong and united. “The elected Negotiating Committee will continue to battle to get a tentative agreement that we can bring to the rank-and-file for a democratic vote. We need to send a message to the employers that we will last as long as needed to get the fair contract that we deserve.”

Coast Committeeman Ray Ortiz, Jr., said that he has been a part of 12 contract negations during his career. “This contract negotiation has been about endurance. The ILWU will not break and we are going to stay strong and get a fair contract and get this cargo moving.”

ILWU Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr., emphasized the deep roots that ILWU members had in the harbor community, reaching back many decades. “ILWU Locals 13, 63 and 94 have been a bastion of the middle class in San Pedro for over 75 years,” Olvera said. “Long before these multinational corporations came to the port, longshoremen were moving cargo and long after they are gone we are still going to be here moving cargo.”

In his address at the rally, LA City Councilmember Joe Buscaino had a message for the employers at the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA): “We say to the PMA, ‘Let the ILWU do their jobs. Let the ILWU clear our ports. Do not stand in their way. Our economy’s is here in the harbor.’”

Local 13 President Olvera thanked the thousands of families and multitude of supporters, including many elected officials, who came to show their support.

“You’re presence here tonight has sent a powerful message that the ILWU and this community are strong, united and willing to fight for what’s right – no matter how long it takes.

Categories: Unions

Negotiating Committee reaches tentative agreement on new Longshore contract

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 10:58

United team: The ILWU’s 16-member Longshore Negotiating Committee and 8-member Safety Sub-Committee reached a tentative contract agreement on February 20 with unanimous support.

It wasn’t quick or easy, but the ILWU Longshore Negotiating Committee reached a tentative agreement for a new 5-year contract with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) on February 20th.

ILWU International President Bob McEllrath praised the 16-member Negotiating Committee and 8-member Safety Sub-Committee for their months of hard work – and he saluted rank-and-file members and local union officials for maintaining exceptional discipline and unity during the grueling 9-month negotiating process that began on May 12, 2014.

“This was the longest contract negotiation we’ve faced in decades,” said McEllrath, “but the final result is a good agreement that wouldn’t have been possible without the unity and support from members up and down the coast.”

Next steps

The tentative agreement will first be reviewed by 90 delegates of the Coast Longshore Caucus who are scheduled to meet March 30 to April 3. Caucus delegates will decide whether to recommend the proposal to the rank-and-file. If recommended, the complete agreement will be mailed to members, followed by discussions at local union meetings. The process ends with a secret-ballot election that allows members to ratify or reject the proposal. Detailed voting results will be published in a future issue of The Dispatcher.

Milestones

The Committee approached their negotiating task with clear directions from the Coast Longshore Caucus that met for two weeks beginning February 24, 2014. The Negotiating Committee opened talks with the PMA on May 12 and continued bargaining past the contract expiration date of July 1, 2014.  Important progress was announced in late August when both sides agreed to maintain health benefits for workers, families and pensioners. The next issue tackled by the Negotiating Committee involved the problems caused by PMA companies that sub-contracted their container chassis pools.

It was also at this point that a pre-existing port congestion problem reached a crisis point. Tensions mounted as PMA companies tried to avoid responsibility for the congestion caused primarily by poor planning and bad business decisions, including:

  • Subcontracting chassis units, causing shortages and logistical problems.
  • Using massive new containers vessels without proper planning.
  • Combining containers from several carriers onto one “alliance” vessel.
  • Failing to pay port truckers a living wage, causing driver shortages
  • Failing to properly plan for record volumes of containers.
  • Failing to train enough dockworkers to operate equipment.

As bargaining continued into the fall, the PMA increasingly accused ILWU members of causing congestion at the ports and charged the union members with orchestrating slowdowns in early November – while companies put pressure on workers by cutting shifts and reducing operations, beginning in Pacific Northwest ports, then spreading down the coast.

By January 13, the PMA had eliminated night and evening shifts, slashing container and cargo loading and unloading operations by 60%. Soon the docks were empty, but employers were still insisting that no space was available to unload ships. Local 13 member and private airplane pilot Rollo Hartstrom joined with Local 94 member and photographer Bill Kirk to take aerial photos that proved PMA’s misleading claims.

Mobilization

Members in Southern California and the Puget Sound mobilized on January 22 for an impressive show of unity. Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr. and Local 23 President Dean McGrath organized separate but coordinated events that brought together thousands of longshore workers, families, community leaders and elected officials who showed their support for a fair contract.

Resolution

In late January, union negotiators reached a resolution that maintained ILWU jurisdiction for inspecting chassis units at the ports. With just a few issues remaining, President Obama assigned Labor Secretary Tom Perez to the talks on February 14, joining federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh who was invited to help by the ILWU and PMA in early January. After the PMA agreed to improve the area arbitration system by making it more fair, a tentative agreement was reached the evening of February 20, supported unanimously by the ILWU Negotiating Committee.

Local agreements

In addition to resolving the “coastwise” contract agreement, separate local agreements were negotiated by union leaders to address issues at local ports. For example, Locals 13, 63 and 94 in Southern California were able to negotiate important terms to improve staffing and transparency. Local 10 was able to negotiate local improvements for manning and equalization.

“The efforts of local leaders, rank-and- file members, and our Negotiating Committee were all pulling in the same direction for the same goal,” said President McEllrath. “That kind of unity is the only way for workers to win.”

Categories: Unions

Hundreds march in Tacoma for a fair contract

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 11:37

Telling the truth in Tacoma: ILWU Local 23 President Dean McGrath spoke at the Tacoma rally on January 22 and invited younger members to also share the podium.

Hundreds of longshore workers, families, and community supporters held a nighttime rally and march in downtown Tacoma. The goal was to show unity and solidarity for a fair contract – and set the record straight about the companies’ role in causing port congestion and delays.

When they arrived at Tollefson Plaza, many marchers wore their safety vests and hard hats on a cold dark night with light rain. Members and supporters came from throughout the Puget Sound region, plus Portland, Longview and Vancouver along the Columbia River and up north to Canada.

Long-distance attendees included Alaska Longshore Division President Chuck Wendt and Juneau President Dennis Young.

“Shutting down the ports by cutting shifts and sending workers home is not a solution to the congestion and delays – it’s only making things worse,” said Local 23 President Dean McGrath who welcomed a short list of speakers who were notable for their strong Local 98 member Zeek Green brought his family to the podium as he shared a clever and hard-hitting “rap” about the lengthy longshore contract struggle.

Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson noted that former ILWU President and co-founder Harry Bridges, said that workers must always struggle against corporate greed. And local 25 year-old member Meghan Mason led the crowd in a chant; “Union town, through and through, you for me, and me for you!” before delivering a strong speech.

When the rally ended, the march took shape with a new twist: a set of battery-powered electrified letters, each carried by a marcher, spelled out an important message when carried in formation: END PORT LAYOFFS.

This “light brigade” led marchers on a short walk to the Glass Bridge, a pedestrian overpass spanning Interstate 705, where the lighted message and throngs of marchers were visible to thousands of cars passing below.

The well-organized and tightly timed event lasted just 90 minutes, but many reported that it boosted spirits – and scored positive media coverage in local TV, radio and newspaper outlets.

Local 19 worker Leith Kahl came down for the rally from Seattle carrying his banjo that he used with his powerful voice to serenade supporters at the end of the march with union solidarity songs, including one that he’d written about the cancelled shifts and employer firings that became routine in the Northwest beginning last fall. “It’s all part of making history, and always better when our voices are heard in the process.”

Categories: Unions

ITF welcomes hard-fought deal for ILWU workers on US West Coast

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 09:48

21 February 2015

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has welcomed a tentative agreement struck between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) on a new five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports of the USA.

Negotiations had been underway since June last year in what had become an increasingly bitter dispute.

The PMA earlier this week ratcheted up their side of the bargaining by banning loading and unloading on nights, weekends and holidays.

The deal was reached with assistance from US Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director, Scot Beckenbaugh.

“This is great news for workers at all 29 West Coast Ports, who can now get on with the job and their lives without a protracted negotiation hanging over their heads,” ITF president and dockers’ section chair, Paddy Crumlin, said.

“I’d like to congratulate ILWU President Bob McEllrath and his negotiating team.

“The ITF and its affiliates have been offering their support and solidarity with the ILWU workers on the West Coast from right around the globe.

“This is a win for dockers the world over.”

A joint statement from ILWU President Bob McEllrath and PMA President James McKenna said that parties will not be releasing details of the agreement at this time and that it is still subject to ratification by both parties.

“After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry,” the joint statement said.

“We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations.”

Big ships with capacities of 8,000 to as much as 14,000 20-foot containers call regularly now at West Coast ports.

Some industry experts predict that by 2020 vessels with capacities of 18,000 TEUs will be serving the West Coast.

Vessels of that size are already calling in the Asia-Europe trades, and ports in those regions are struggling to cope with the cargo surges that are created by big ships.

Download a copy of the ITF press release here. (PDF)

 

 

Categories: Unions

PMA, ILWU Announce West Coast Waterfront Contract FMCS, Cabinet Secretaries Played Key Roles

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 09:24

SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 20, 2015) – The Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union today announced a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports. The deal was reached with assistance from U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh. The parties will not be releasing details of the agreement at this time. The agreement is subject to ratification by both parties.

“After more than nine months of negotiations, we are pleased to have reached an agreement that is good for workers and for the industry,” said PMA President James McKenna and ILWU President Bob McEllrath in a joint statement. “We are also pleased that our ports can now resume full operations.”

Download the joint press release here. 

Categories: Unions

ILWU President Robert McEllrath’s message to the membership (video)

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 17:36

February 11, 2015

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath has released the following update on the contract talks with the Pacific Maritime Association.

Categories: Unions

ILWU statement on port re-opening

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 10:12

ILWU statement from 2-19-15 on the  re-opening of West Coast ports:

“West Coast ports re-opened Monday morning after employers closed the docks for two days, increasing delays for customers needing containers.  The union remains focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as possible with employers.  Talks to resolve the few remaining issues between the Longshore Union and Pacific Maritime Association are ongoing.”

Categories: Unions

Aerial photos of ports show what the PMA doesn’t want the public to see

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 09:35

The following photographs show, as ILWU International President Bob McEllrath said in a recent news release, that there are acres of asphalt waiting for the containers that sit on dozens of ships waiting to be unloaded at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and sufficient space for thousands of containers on the docks.

The PMA has told the media that the ports are too full to receive cargo, but the photos tell another story. And though the docks are clear, the transportation chain (intermodal squeeze from export energy trains and chassis shortage) remains congested due to factors outside of the scope of the ILWU.

Photos taken Saturday, Feb. 6, 2015, at LB 94 and LBCT, by a team of longshore workers: Pilot Rollo Hartstrom from Local 13, and photographer Bill Kirk from Local 94.

In mid-January, PMA claimed that there was a lack of dock space for containers, and it eliminated night shifts at many ports.

“PMA is leaving ships at sea and claiming there’s no space on the docks, but there are acres of asphalt just waiting for the containers on those ships, and hundreds of longshore workers ready to unload them,” said McEllrath. “The employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table.”

The union’s photos of marine terminals in Southern California that show large tracts of space that would easily fit thousands of containers.

The PMA is an employer association whose largest members include Denmark-based Maersk Line, Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine, Korean-based Hanjin Shipping, Philippines-based ICTSI, Japan-based NYK Line, Hong Kong-based OOCL, China-based COSCO, and other employers based in France, Norway and worldwide.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is based in San Francisco, Calif., and is negotiating a contract that has covered longshore workers at 30 West Coast ports in California, Oregon and Washington since 1934.

Categories: Unions

ILWU President blasts PMA threat to shut down US ports

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 14:58

 

The ILWU has provided the media with several pictures disputing the PMA’s claims that West Coast ports are too congested to unload ships. In fact, they have acres of asphalt waiting for containers and hundreds of longshore workers willing to unload them.

Photos of empty docks show that PMA employers, based largely overseas, are worsening a congestion crisis at West Coast ports to pressure American workers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (February 5, 2015) – ILWU International President Robert McEllrath today blasted the Pacific Maritime Association for threatening to shut down West Coast ports, bargaining in the media, and distorting the facts.

“What the ILWU heard yesterday is a man who makes about one million dollars a year telling the working class that we have more than our share,” said McEllrath. “Intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining, when we are just a few issues from reaching an agreement, is totally unnecessary and counterproductive.”

In mid-January, PMA claimed that there was a lack of dock space for containers, and it eliminated nightshifts at many ports. Today, the union provided photos disputing the employer group’s assertion that docks are too congested to unload ships.

“PMA is leaving ships at sea and claiming there’s no space on the docks, but there are acres of asphalt just waiting for the containers on those ships, and hundreds of longshore workers ready to unload them,” said McEllrath. “The employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table.”

The union provided several photos of marine terminals in Southern California that show large tracts of space that would easily fit thousands of containers.

“The employers’ threat to shut down West Coast ports is a reckless and unnecessary move,” said

McEllrath. “What the employers need to do is stay at the negotiating table and work through a few remaining issues with the workers who have made them successful for the past 80 years. We are very close to reaching an agreement.”

The PMA is an employer association whose largest members include Denmark-based Maersk Line, Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine, Korean-based Hanjin Shipping, Philippines-based ICTSI, Japan-based NYK Line, Hong Kong-based OOCL, China-based COSCO, and other employers based in France, Norway and worldwide.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is based in San Francisco, Calif., and is negotiating a contract that has covered longshore workers at 30 West Coast ports in California, Oregon and Washington since 1934.

Download the press release here. (PDF)

Categories: Unions

ILWU tells employers:  finish negotiations, don’t close ports over only a few remaining issues

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 16:44

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The ILWU is trying to keep dock employers at the negotiating table to finish an agreement that is “extremely close.”

“We’re this close,” said ILWU President Robert McEllrath, who held up two fingers in a gesture indicating how close the parties are to reaching an agreement.

“We’ve dropped almost all of our remaining issues to help get this settled – and the few issues that remain can be easily resolved.”

The ILWU pledged to keep the ports open and keep cargo flowing, despite the massive, employer-caused congestion crisis that has delayed shipping for most of 2014.

This is the second time in recent memory that the employers have threatened to close ports at the final stages of negotiations. The union has not engaged in a port strike over the coast longshore contract since 1971, 44 years ago.

“Closing the ports at this point would be reckless and irresponsible,” said McEllrath. The ILWU urged the Federal Mediator to keep both parties at the talks until the nearly-finished agreement is concluded.

If the PMA closes the ports, “the public will suffer and corporate greed will prevail,” said McEllrath, who noted that the major powers on the employer side are multi-national corporations who are foreign-owned.

“These foreign-owned companies make billions of dollars and pay their executives millions to do their bidding.”

The ILWU Longshore Division represents 20,000 dockworkers at 29 west coast ports.

Download the press release here. (PDF)

Categories: Unions

PMA officials admit today that West Coast congestion crisis has been caused by managerial mistakes and not primarily due to dockworkers

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 08:10

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In contract negotiations this afternoon, officials from the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) told a federal mediator and longshore negotiators that West Coast ports have reached a point where there is little space available for additional import containers arriving on the docks – and no space for export and empty containers returning to the docks.

The PMA made it clear in the negotiating session that they were not blaming union workers for the primary causes of the congestion crisis, explaining that the lack of space for returning empty and export containers was exacerbating the existing chassis shortage – because the export-bound containers are a key source of desperately needed chassis that have become the #1 choke-point, ever since shipping lines recently stopped providing a chassis for each container arriving to West Coast ports.

After explaining how the lack of dock space for containers and shortages of chassis were crippling the ports, the PMA announced an illogical plan to eliminate night-shifts at many ports.  In addition to cutting shifts at major container ports, the PMA cutbacks would also apply to bulk and break-bulk operations – for no apparent reason other than as a cynical tactic to generate anxiety among workers.

The union has noted that cancelling night shifts and reducing bulk operations will do nothing to ease the congestion crisis. The PMA appears to be abusing public ports and putting the economy at risk in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table, and create the appearance of a crisis in order to score points with politicians in Washington.

“Longshore workers are ready, willing and able to clear the backlog created by the industry’s poor decisions,” said ILWU President Bob McEllrath. “The employer is making nonsensical moves like cutting back on shifts at a critical time, creating gridlock in a cynical attempt to turn public opinion against workers. This creates an incendiary atmosphere during negotiations and does nothing to get us closer to an agreement.”

Download the press release here. (PDF)

 

Categories: Unions

The Legend of Carlos Bulosan

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 12:35

Brilliant writer and union activist: Filipino immigrant Carlos Bulosan, who grew up poor in his home country, came to the U.S. where he expressed passionate feelings for social justice through his writing and union organizing.

A growing number of social justice activists are coming to admire and respect the contributions made by Carlos Bulosan, despite the fact that many are still unaware of the contributions from this remarkable man and important union leader who excelled as a gifted writer, poet and activist.

America is in the heart

Carlos Sampayan Bulosan lived a brief but brilliant 45-year life. He was born in the Philippines and died in Seattle in 1956. His most renowned writing contribution is found in his book, “America is in the Heart.” Like Jack London and John Steinbeck, Bulosan’s writing and political views were based in working class struggles.

His writing focuses on events and characters located in Seattle and the Western United States where he worked and travelled. The issues he tackled include passionate portrayals of immigrants facing racial injustice – much like the poet Langston Hughes documented in the lives of African Americans in New York City about the same time.

Celebrated essay

A famous essay by Bulosan, titled “Freedom of Want,” brought him worthy acclaim when it was published in the Saturday Evening Post in March of 1943. His essay was accompanied by a painting from the famous illustrator Norman Rockwell, showing a family celebrating their bounty at a holiday dinner table. Written at the end of the Great Depression and dark days of WWII – the essay and painting inspired millions of Americans who were hoping and struggling for a better life. Bulosan’s essay also resonated widely with the public because it shared values outlined in a famous speech by President Franklin Roosevelt, called “Four Freedoms,” including the “freedom from want.”

Early years

Like many Filipinos of his generation, Bulosan emigrated from his homeland as a young man of 17 in 1930 when the islands were still a U.S. colony. During his childhood years in the Philippines, he and his farming family were cruelly exploited and abused by wealthy landowners – establishing a formative experience that was later  recounted in “America is in the heart.”

During the next two decades, Bulosan chronicled the experience of immigrant workers in the U.S., providing a rare voice for workers and families who enjoyed rich lives but were often ignored and marginalized by an America ripe with racism.

An inspiration

Being Filipino American myself, I was inspired by Bulosan’s writings because they helped me become more mindful and aware of my own experience. When I first read “America is in the Heart,” I was struck by his unique “Bulosan style” and masterful use of imagery to tell a story.

But I must admit that my respect for “Manong” Carlos (Manong is a Filipino term of respect, similar to the English term “brother”) was also strong because of our personal connection to the Alaska Cannery Workers Union ILWU/ IBU Local/Region 37 – where he served sixty years ago and I serve today. Back then, Bulosan was an elected official of Local 37; today I am currently the Executive officer of the same union. Naturally I take great pride in Bulosan’s association with our union – especially his priceless writings and passages that were penned during his tenure here at Region 37.

I still consider it the highest honor to work in a position that was once shared by such an important and brilliant icon. Some of my personal experiences with our union are similar to those described by Bulosan, although with less tension and hostility than he faced in the early days of Region 37.

Historical research

Thankfully, there has been ongoing research and debate concerning the life and contributions of Carlos Bulosan. On November 14, 2014, an academic conference was held at the University of Washington, titled: “Empire is in the Heart: A conference to mark the centennial birth of Carlos Bulosan.” This all-day conference examined the brief life of this gifted writer and poet in great detail. Presentations explored Bulosan’s political views as a left-wing sympathizer and union activist – considered a “subversive” by the FBI and cited in hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the 1940’s. And like Harry Bridges – also an immigrant – Bulosan was able to survive these political attacks and avoid deportation efforts by the U.S. government.

Teaching tool

The Conference also discussed how “America is in the Heart” could be used as a teaching tool for students.

At the Conference conclusion, a reception was hosted by IBU Region 37 and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. The reception allowed us to update conference participants about the current state of Carlos Bulosan’s union, and share information about our union with local labor leaders who were invited to the reception.

Participants were also able to view the impressive Carlos Bulosan exhibit, featuring many documents and photos, which will remain on display at the University of Washington’s Allen Library Special Collections area until March, 15, 2015.

Courageous & selfless

Bulosan’s writing conveys the character of a compassionate man who was generous toward the nation’s immigrant workers, long abused by their employers. His determination to maintain a radical consciousness and strong ideological beliefs put him at odds with the literary and political establishment. Carlos spoke the truth and organized against the status quo which cost him dearly in personal and financial terms. He focused on helping workers organize, take collective action and unite to form their union.

But most important of all was Bulosan’s gift of providing workers and people of color with hope and direction – through his writing and deeds – helping workers to discover their power and leverage in the workplace.

David & Goliath

Bulosan’s stories were often based on a protagonist character, usually under duress and always out-matched, like the Bible story, David and Goliath.

While rooting for the underdog, Bulosan created complex and flawed human characters that make it easy for us understand and draw inspiration from this literary master and working class organizer.

-Richard Gurtiza, Regional Director Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) Region 37

Categories: Unions

Solidarity visit from the International Dockworkers Council (IDC)

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 11:37

The ILWU Negotiating Committee was honored to receive a solidarity visit from leaders of the International Dockworkers Council (IDC) on December 17.

IDC General Coordinator Jordi Aragunde and Office Coordinator Susana Busquets addressed the ILWU Committee and pledged to “mobilize the IDC’s network of

support and organization to help the ILWU win this important contract struggle.” An IDC flag was presented to President McEllrath that was hung in the conference room where negotiations take place. Affiliates of the IDC met in Brussels on December 12 where they adopted a solidarity statement that concluded: “The

IDC will fully support the ILWU’s effort to negotiate a good contract for all West Coast dockworkers and will organize any actions deemed necessary to protect dockworkers’ rights on the West Coast.” ILA Vice-President Ken Riley, who serves as IDC’s East Coast Coordinator, was also part of the delegation that visited San Francisco to offer his support and solidarity.

Solidarity pledges and support have also been received from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), another global union network. Vice-

President (Mainland) Ray Familathe serves as First Vice-Chair of the ITF Dockers Section and recently attended an ITF meeting in London where he provided an

update on the ILWU/PMA negotiations. ITF President Paddy Crumlin attended the ILWU longshore Caucus on February 24, 2014, as did IDC leader Antolín Goya.

Categories: Unions

Corporate subsidies for anti-union employers: are taxpayers are being hosed in Coos Bay?

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 10:18

Local 12 Southport boat pickets: Local 12 members Leonard Nelson, John Huber, Bob Palmer & Steve Maine

For the past several months, Local 12 members and supporters have been picketing whenever non-union barges arrive at the Southport Forest Products dock in North Bend, Oregon – a waterfront employer who’s trying to operate without the ILWU.

Machine guns

“The weather is sometimes nasty, but that doesn’t stop us,” said Local 12 Secretary-Treasurer Gene Sundet, who was soaked to the bone on December 4th but remained in good spirits with co-workers who picketed in front of the company gates and out in the bay, thanks to a flotilla of small fishing boats. Local law enforcement treated the protest as a major event; mobilizing seven officers and four squad cars – the better part of local law enforcement – while a Coast Guard vessel patrolled nearby with a .50 caliber machine gun. Sherriff’s deputies said they wanted to “practice dealing with protestors” who are expected to visit Coos Bay in the future if a controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility goes forward.
Going non-union

Two years ago, Local 12 had an agreement with Southport to use ILWU workers for unloading log barges, through Ports America. Many logs were unloaded with ILWU help during the past two years – but the company refused to reach terms with Local 12 for shipping wood chips from their facility. Southport was soon searching for non-union tow and barge operators to help them move their chips – and recently started moving both logs and chips without ILWU labor.

“We’ve organized five picket lines at Southport since September,” said Jill Jacobson, who also serves as Local 12’s Secretary-Treasurer. “We’d like to settle this as soon as possible, because we can’t let Southport or anyone else drive down standards on the waterfront.”
Special favors

 

Southport has been getting special help and sweetheart deals from the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay, and their Chief Commercial Officer, Martin Callery. The first deal was reached in 2004 when Southport outgrew their original mill site. Eager to sell-off publicly held land on the Coos Bay North Spit, the Port offered Southport waterfront acreage that included a barge slip at a bargain-basement price. The Port also arranged for Southport to benefit from a $1.3 million federal grant from the Oregon Department of Commerce to build a rail spur connecting an existing rail line into Southport’s mill.
Lying about jobs

To secure the federal grant, Port officials and Southport claimed that the new mill would create 300 jobs. Southport has been quick to boast about that their new labor-saving, state-of-the-art sawmill, described as a “…highly efficient, high speed, high tech manufacturing operation which is one of the most efficient lumber and wood chip manufacturing operations in North America.” Their fully-operational mill now employs less than 75 workers – hundreds short of the numbers used to get the grant.

Anytime, day or night: Picketing at Southport lumber has taken place at night and in the pouring rain to protest the company’s refusal to recognize ILWU jurisdiction on their docks.

Public grant money

In 2005, the Port secured another grant for Southport worth $506,000 from the “Oregon Connect” program. The Port and Southport were supposed to provide additional funding of $140,000, bringing the total project cost to $646,000. The grant said the funding would be used to refurbish the barge slip that had filled with silt. A local newspaper reported: “The project is expected to increase employment in Southport’s local operations, and in maritime services and the longshore labor sectors.” But after Southport received the public grant money, the Port granted the company a waiver from the competitive bidding process – allowing the firm to pocket money by repairing the barge slip themselves without hiring local contractors to do the work.

Enterprise Zones

The term “enterprise zone” was created during the Reagan years to justify corporate tax subsidies. Several years ago, the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay took steps to create a “Bay Area Enterprise Zone.”

In theory, the tax subsidies provided through enterprise zones are supposed to spur job creation, which in turn is supposed to benefit the community – a form of trickle-down economics.

But most enterprise zone schemes take more from taxpayers than they deliver back to the community. Southport received their Enterprise Zone subsidy courtesy of the Port in 2011, which slashed the company’s property tax bill by more than 90%; from $69,656 in 2011 to $5,178 in 2012 and $5,215 in 2013. The number of jobs delivered by Southport remains a fraction of what was promised, and now the company has gone non-union – lowering the value of their jobs.
Promoting public good

“Southport has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate welfare, but remains arrogant and disrespectful of our community,” said Local 12 Secretary-Treasurer Gene Sundet. “They need to be held accountable, and we intend to educate the community about their abuse of the public interest.”
Bottom line

Local 12 leaders say they’re committed to fighting the attack on longshore jurisdiction in their small port by privately owned mills and docks.

“Maintaining good jobs with high standards that support our community is what we’re about,” said Jill Jacobson. It may start in a small port, but eventually these non-union operators threaten everyone on the waterfront if they get a foothold.”

Categories: Unions

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