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International Longshore and Warehouse Union
Updated: 2 days 13 hours ago

Dear Signet, don’t let Rio Tinto take the sparkle out of Christmas

Mon, 12/14/2015 - 16:20

This holiday season, unions are again calling on one of the world’s largest jewellery retailers to clean up its supplier of diamonds. They are urging Signet to demand that multinational mining and metals giant Rio Tinto respect workers’ rights, indigenous peoples and the environment.

With global sales of US$6 billion annually, Signet’s Kay, Jared and Zales are found across the US, Peoples and Mappins stores are throughout Canada, and H. Samuel and Ernest Jones shops are visible on UK high streets.

The unions are calling on Signet to abide by its own Responsible Sourcing Policy. This policy declares the company “committed to the responsible sourcing of our products and the respect of human rights, and we expect the same from our suppliers around the world.”

Read more about the campaign here.

Categories: Unions

Single-payer health care conference: strategy for a better plan continues

Thu, 12/03/2015 - 15:34
A report by Dan McKisson, Local 19 and Rich Austin, Pensioner

Photo by David Young

President McEllrath assigned us to attend the 2015 Single-Payer Strategy Conference in Chicago, IL on October 30 – November 1, 2015.

The conference was a collaborative effort involving Labor Campaign for Single Payer (LCSP), Healthcare- NOW and Single Payer States. The Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) were also holding a conference and participated in portions of our conference. Many unions and state single payer organizations were represented at the conference with the nurses unions having the most representatives. There was approximately 400 people in attendance.

The first day included a well participated rally at the offices of Blue Cross. The keynote speaker was Tom Conway of United Steel Workers (USW) who spoke about the challenges faced by workers of addressing healthcare at the bargaining table.

Day two started with a speech by Representative Jim McDermott from Washington State, who has been a longtime single payer advocate. His latest strategy is to move HR3241, a state-based bill that would give waivers to states to move away from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and pool the money to start a single payer system in their states. There was debate throughout the conference when or if national and other state efforts should break away from their local campaigns to support another state that is on the verge of succeeding to secure a single payer system.

The afternoon included a menu of workshops including, “Winning Support from the Business Community,” “The Cadillac Tax & Attacks on Workers Healthcare” and “Healthcare is a Human Right Model.”

The ILWU took an early position against the ACA’s excise tax and it was good to see other unions and groups finally coming around to this position. Some people expressed concern that if the excise tax were to be amended or repealed, that the single payer movement could lose momentum. One sister chastised the moderator for using the employer’s words when addressing the excise tax—calling it the “Cadillac tax.” She is right. This term unfairly paints comprehensive health insurance coverage that ILWU members have fought for as “luxuries” instead of as a right that all Americans should have.

The most interesting workshop was the “Winning Support from the Business Community”. The presentation was based on a short film that was recently produced by a business owner from LeHigh, Pennsylvania called “Fix It”. The film addresses why business should support a single payer system. (The film can be seen at: http://fixithealthcare.com) Even with the passion and motivation of the attendees at the conference we will only be able to move single payer forward when the business community sees the financial advantage of a universal health care system. The day concluded with a fund raiser and I was able to present the $1,500 check from the Coast Longshore Division to the LCSP and Brother Austin presented a check from the Pacific Coast Pensioners Association. Both contributions were very much appreciated.

The final day comprised of groups discussing five questions and submitting ideas to guide future actions by the sponsoring groups. There were some at the conference who concluded that the ACA had a couple of good changes, but that it was still a discriminatory system—it does not cover undocumented residents, for example. In addition, the ACA was largely written by drug and insurance companies and for-profit hospitals in order to maximize their profits at the expense of public health.

Many people at the conference felt that we should stop making excuses for the ACA, and instead work to make single payer a reality. The conference was informative and much larger than the previous Labor Campaign for Single Payer conferences. The movement seems to be gaining some strength even with the recent setbacks in Vermont and New York.

In order to win single payer, some people felt that the best strategy is to win it state by state. That theory suggests that once the first state goes, it will be a domino effect thereafter. Others, including a number of doctors belonging to Physicians for a National Health Program, feel that a national approach such as House Resolution 676 (HR 676) “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” that was endorsed by the ILWU should be our overall objective.

The LCSP had a business meeting at the end of the conference and Rich Austin Sr. was voted to the Steering Committee where he will be an invaluable resource.

Future conferences should continue to be attended by the ILWU and we should take the opportunity to send different members each time to represent and experience the conferences so they can bring it back to their members.

Categories: Unions

IBU members win settlement but fight continues at Saltchuk

Thu, 12/03/2015 - 11:23

Members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (IBU), the ILWU’s Marine Division, won a significant settlement in October from Delta Western, an affiliate of Saltchuk Resources, Inc. Delta Western operates several west coast fuel docks, including a facility in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, — the remote location known to millions of Americans as home port for the “Deadliest Catch” television series. Delta-Western workers in “Dutch” voted to join the union in April, 2014.

But before winning that election, the Salchuk-owned company did everything possible to prevent workers from joining the union, and officials are now resisting efforts to negotiate a fair contract. Workers say the company has discriminated against the predominantly Filipino crew and repeatedly violated labor laws. Workers filed claims with the federal government last year against management for illegally retaliating and discriminating against members.

Settlement of those charges came roughly one year after Manolito “Mo” Reyes was unfairly terminated. As a result, Reyes will receive a settlement to compensate him for one year’s worth of lost wages. The settlement was signed by the company’s managers and approved by officials at the National Labor Relations Board. “When management fired me, my co-workers went on strike to protest Saltchuk’s conduct,” said Reyes. “Today, we succeeded in having managers clear my good name and restore the income that I lost.” In addition to paying Reyes, the company agreed to expunge the unfair discipline from his personnel file.

“This settlement confirms that Mo is a good worker and a good union man, who should not have been fired by the company,” said Leo Dacio, a coworker at the Dutch Harbor fuel dock.

Dacio says he has also faced retaliation and harassment for supporting the union, explaining that Saltchuk’s Delta-Western affiliate demoted him and cut his pay just months before they fired Reyes. At the same time, the company promoted two employees whoopposed the union and provided them extra pay for “housing expenses.”

As a condition of settling the federal charges, Salchuk agreed to promote Dacio with a raise and provide him with compensation for his lost wages. His personnel record will also be cleared of unfair entries. “This is a vindication,” said Robin Marquez, another employee. “We knew all along that Mo and Leo were unfairly disciplined, and now the public knows too.”

“This settlement is important, but what we want is respect on the job and a fair contract so we can take care of our families. This is a very hard job and it is really expensive to live here,” said employee Erwin Riodil. “All of us have been bargaining an agreement with the company, but they’ve slowed the process almost to a halt for months,” said fuel dock worker Art Guiang. “If management would have signed a fair contract with us, we could have used the new rules to resolve these issues.”

In addition to protesting the company’s repeated violations of labor rights, IBU members have identified a pattern of discrimination at Saltchuk’s Delta Western site in Dutch Harbor that has targeted Filipino-American and Asian-Pacific Islander American workers for termination, demotion, substandard work conditions and even a ban on speaking Tagalog on the job.

In March, eight members filed charges against the company with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

“Why does this Saltchuk company refuse to respect all members of the community?” asked Dacio. “All employees work hard to keep the company operations running smoothly and profitably, but management prevents us from doing our jobs by discriminating against Filipino-American and Asian-Pacific Islander American workers.”

“Regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity everyone should be treated equally especially in the workplace,” said Richard Gurtiza, Regional Director of IBU Region 37. “Anything less is an insult not only to the individual worker but for entire communities.”

Employees’ charges state that, among other violations of federal law, managers illegally discriminated on the basis of race, national origin and age by:

  • Harassing and firing Reyes over a trumped-up safety issue;
  • Offering better working conditions to white employees commuting from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor than were offered to Filipino- American and Asian-Pacific Islander American employees living and working locally; and;
  •  Ordering employees to stop speaking Tagalog to each other on the job and to speak only English.

“All that should matter to Delta Western and Saltchuk is that the best people for the job are hired and working well together,” said Riodil. “To harass, discipline, fire and try to prevent us from speaking casually shows an unacceptable practice of treating us as less valuable employees.”

“We ask all our brothers and sisters in the IBU and ILWU to stand with us in our fight against Saltchuk and Delta Western for an end to discrimination and a fair union contract,” said Dacio.

“Saltchuk won a ‘World’s Most Ethical Company’ award last year,” said Alan Coté, IBU President. “Let’s pull together all our strength and solidarity to back up these courageous members’ struggle to make this employer live up to that title.”

“Helping workers organize a union to win some justice has always been a struggle, and we’re committed to helping these Salchuk/Delta-Western workers to win their fight for respect,” said ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe who oversees the union’s organizing campaigns.

Categories: Unions

Uniting in strength: IBU convenes their 23rd convention

Thu, 12/03/2015 - 09:42

The 23rd convention of the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) met in Seattle on November 4-6 and committed to bold steps that will boost organizing and training. Elected delegates heard from a variety of speakers, participated in panel discussions, and joined debates, workshops and working groups that went late into the evenings.

Important decisions made at the convention included a unanimous endorsement of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, plans to implement a union training trust and increased support for the union’s organizing efforts.

Passenger Industry and Towboat Caucuses

Before the Convention formally opened on November 3rd, the IBU held two caucuses—one for the passenger industry and another for the tow boat industry. The goal was to gather workers in those industries from every region and provide an opportunity to meet and discuss common issues facing their respective industries.

Both caucuses heard international guests from the Maritime Union of Australia. The MUA’s Assistant National Secretary-Treasurer Ian Bray spoke at the Towboat Caucus and Assistant Branch Secretary Paul Garret addressed the Passenger Industry Caucus.

The Passenger Industry Caucasus also heard a report from Tricia Schroeder, Executive Vice President at SEIU Local 925 on the ways in which right-wing organizations like the Freedom Foundation are using “right to work” laws in Washington State to harass and defund unions by tricking members with misleading mail campaigns into opting-out of paying union dues and agency fees.

President Coté’s address

In his convention address, IBU President Alan Coté outlined the challenges facing the union and all of organized labor – noting unions are under threat from subcontracting, privatization, automation, coordinated legal and legislative attacks on the rights of workers to collectively organize and bargain. Coté said that employers strategically use intimidation, threats and other unfair labor practices to subvert the few rights that workers currently have under the law. Maritime unions are under threat from attempts to undermine cabotage laws that protect the domestic shipping industry while public sector workers are threatened by “right-to-work” laws.

“If you are comfortable right now, and feel that everything is going well, and that your contracts are all in order, I suggest that you are asleep at the wheel,” Coté said. “I believe we’re at war. There is a global war against labor.”

Despite these threats, Coté outlined a path forward for the IBU that included forging new strategic allies with other maritime unions in the United States and strengthening existing relationships internationally with like-minded unions like the Maritime Union of Australia. Coté also stressed the need for strategic organizing campaigns in key sectors and regions such as what the fuel dock workers are doing in Dutch Harbor Alaska and urged delegates to finally enact a training program.

“If unions don’t control labor through their own training programs, we are at the mercy of every employer. Why should you have to go to your employer and beg him for training?” Coté said.

Focus on organizing

ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe, who oversees the ILWU Organizing Department, addressed the convention on the first day. He outlined the legislative attacks on the ILWU Longshore Division that, if enacted, would restrict the rights of longshore workers to take lawful labor actions to protect their wages and conditions.

He said that this was a part of an attack against maritime workers and dock workers across the globe. “There’s a reason they are coming after us, and that is because we are highly unionized.” Familathe said.

“That is why we are in organizations like the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Dockers Council, and why it is so important to have friends like the MUA.” Familathe also highlighted the organizing efforts in Dutch Harbor Alaska and acknowledged the hard work of ILWU organizers Adam Dalton and Jon Brier who were in attendance.

After his speech, Familathe participated in a panel discussion on organizing with organizer Adam Daltonand Monty Beard, a worker from the Catalina Express organizing drive in San Pedro. The panel discussed the organizing efforts in Dutch Harbor which is now focused on winning a new contract. They also covered the challenges encountered in last Spring’s organizing drive at Catalina Express that fell a few votes short of victory.

The panel acknowledge the many obstacles involved in any organizing campaign that include illegal employer harassment, intimidation of workers and high priced union-busting consultants, but agreed that organizing needs to continue and be an important focus of the union.

Tongue Point Seamanship Program

The convention heard a presentation about the Seamanship Program at Tongue Point in Astoria, OR. Seamanship Program Director Len Tumbarello and student Daniel Myking gave an overview of their program which is funded by Job Corps, a federal training program run by the Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16 through 24. The training and education is provided at no cost to the students who live on campus during their training. Students are placed in internships and receive job placement assistance.

Applicants from all over the United States attend the Seamanship program which enrolls 120 students. Secretary-Treasurer Terri Mast noted that IBU convention delegate Meagan Nye had graduated from the Tongue Point program and was recognized by delegates.

Political action

ILWU International Secretary Treasurer Willie Adams spoke about the need to be actively engaged in politics at every level to protect the interests of ILWU members.

“We have to be smart about who give money to,” Adams said. “If a politician comes around asking for a donation from our Political Action Fund and they haven’t supported the ILWU or the interests of workers, we don’t give them any money. It’s that simple.”

After Adams spoke, there was a panel discussion on political action at the federal, state and local levels that included Adams, Southern California Regional Director John Skow, and Puget Sound Regional Director Peter Hart.

John Skow discussed the “Safe Manning Act,” legislation that the Southern California IBU is seeking to introduce in the California legislature. The goal is to ensure proper staffing on tugboats in the state’s harbors.

Skow said the legislation is currently on hold while they document the safety hazards on under-staffed tugs. Adams talked about the legislative attacks on the Jones Act, a federal law passed in 1920 which protects the domestic shipping industry. In his role as a San Francisco Port Commissioner, Adams said he has been asked if he would support changes to the Jones Act, based on claims that it might bring more cruise ships to San Francisco. “I’m not in favor of touching the Jones Act at all,” Adams said. “Leave it alone.”

Hart underscored the need for political engagement. “You do politics or politics does you,” he warned. He added that the IBU does not have a large Political Action Fund. “But what we do have is a lot of members who can add this stuff up. We’ve got to educate and engage members about this anti-worker legislation and the politicians who support it.”

The struggle down under MUA Assistant National Secretary-Treasurer Ian Bray addressed the convention on the second day to provide delegates with an international perspective about recent attacks on workers and labor organizations. He discussed recent changes in labor laws made by Australia’s right-wing government that have restricted rights of Australian union members to engage in labor actions. Other changes include weakened health and safety regulations needed to protect workers. Finally, Bray noted recent changes to visa laws have made it easier for employers to import low-wage workers into Australia – eroding pay and working conditions that the MUA fought for generations to establish.

“A boss who is only concerned with unfettered productivity doesn’t care about your safety and he doesn’t care if you make it home to your family at the end of your shift,” Bray said.

Young workers panel

At the end of the second morning’s plenary session, the convention heard from a panel of young workers who discussed the challenges with integrating young and new members into the union. Meagan Nye, Adam Smith and Samantha Levens participated on the panel.

The IBU had sent each of these workers to represent the union at various events in order to involve and train a new generation of rank and file leaders. Nye participated in the ILWU Young Workers Conference in Canada, Smith attended the International Transport Worker’s Federation Summer School and Levens represented the IBU at a recent MUA convention. During the panel, they provided a report-back on their experiences. Levens said that it was important to engage new members as soon as they come into the union and have ways they can actively participate in organizing and other activities.

“It’s great to talk about young workers in the union but we need to make sure we have structures in place to actively engage young workers,” Levens said. She recalled how she was asked to assist in the organizing drive at Hornblower Cruises when she first became an IBU member and how important that experience was in integrating her into the union. “I think I spent more time on the picket line in my first few months as an IBU member then I did working on ferries.”

Resolutions adopted

Delegates discussed dozens of proposed resolutions which were debated, amended and voted by the body. Key resolutions adopted by the 23rd IBU Convention delegates include:

  • Unanimous endorsement of PresidentialCandidate Bernie Sanders;
  • Support of continued funding of the Alaska Marine Highway;
  • Support for the development of the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas Project;
  • Support for a fair contract for Sakuma Brothers Farms workers;
  • Continued support for the Southern Alaska communities of Sitka, Hoonah, Haines, and Skagway;
  • The development of a Training Trust Fund;
  • Opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership;
  • Support for Washington State Ferries Concession Members;
  • Support for a Southern California Region job apprenticeship program;
  • Support for the Delta Western Workers in Dutch Harbor, Alaska;
  • Commitment to fight against attacks on public sector unions;
  • Commitment to create a leadership and mentoring program for rank-and- file members;

The financial package was also approved by the delegates which will include a dues increase that will go to IBU members for a final vote.

“We made some important decisions that will help this union move forward in an economic and political Secretary Treasurer Mast. “It’s important that we respond when we are attacked but also take the steps necessary to plan and strengthen this union for future generations.”

Categories: Unions

Pres. McEllrath: ILWU will fight all attacks on safety, collective bargaining rights

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 16:28

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Nov. 6, 2015ILWU Brothers and Sisters:

As you know, politicians have been publicly and inaccurately blaming congestion at the ports on those of us who work on the docks. They are opportunistically using industry-caused congestion as an excuse to introduce legislation that attacks workers’ collective bargaining rights, threatens our safety, wastes taxpayer dollars — and fails to address the actual root causes of congestion.

On November 4, two U.S. Representatives proposed misguided and dangerous amendments that would have forced unsafe speeds on the docks and hijacked the transportation bill to reexamine past labor talks.

Fortunately, with hard work from our Longshore representatives in D.C., our Legislative Action Committee, and a unified voice from longshore workers and our friends and allies, both amendments were defeated. The amendment proposed by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) was withdrawn for lack of votes, and the amendment proposed by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) was defeated in a House floor vote.

While we prevailed in this round of attacks on our workplace safety and collective bargaining rights, politicians have already fired another round. Just hours after the Newhouse and Reichert amendments were defeated, two anti-union Congressmen from Washington and Oregon held a news conference and introduced another misguided bill called the “Economics Act.” At first glance, this bill seems to be a rehash of already rejected ideas. More details on the act will be forthcoming.

The ILWU will be educating members of Congress on the dangers of this bill and any others that arise. We need your support to defeat them. Listen to your local officers’ updates, and if you use social media, stay tuned to the ILWU Coast Longshore Division’s page on Facebook. If we issue an action alert, it’s important to respond immediately by contacting your elected officials in Congress and respectfully urging them to vote according to the action alert.

It will take continued hard work and vigilance to ensure that opportunistic politicians do not erode our rights. We have been fighting this fight since 1934, and we must continue to beat back these attacks. Thank you for your support to defeat the amendments, and stay tuned to make your voice heard again.

Sincerely,

Robert McEllrath
International President

Categories: Unions

ILWU member leads effort to help others left behind on harbor area streets

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 12:17

Local 23 member David Gonzalez. Photo by Slobodan Dimitriov

Local 26 member David Gonzales is leading an impressive but quiet effort with other volunteers in Wilmington who serve hundreds of meals each week to homeless and hungry people in the harbor area.

“I know what it’s like to be on the streets because I was there once myself,” says Gonzales, tracing his ordeal that began when he was physically and mentally abused almost daily by a stepfather “from the time I was 3 until I was 13.” When he was able to fight back, his mother said he’d have to leave the house, so he ended up in Banning Park. Gonzales tried to continue at school while he was living on the streets, but eventually dropped out and became involved with drugs and gangs.

“I can see now that the gang was important to me because I didn’t have a father, and it filled a need for a while,” he says. “Gang life gave me some security, but also filled my mind with distrust of anyone who wasn’t exactly like us. After years of “gangbanging” and coloring much of his skin with tattoos, he began to look for a way out of his dependency on drugs and the street life, but getting out was difficult. That’s where the union came in.

“I’m from a 4th generation Wilmington family here, so I knew how important the union was to the community, but I never realized that it would be the thing that helped me turn my life around.”

Gonzales found work as a guard with ILWU Local 26, providing security on the docks at the ports of LA and Long Beach. What he found was a surprising degree of support from co-workers who made a difference in his life.

“When my baby girl was just 9 months old, she had a life-threatening heart defect that required a dangerous surgery.” Gonzales said Local 26 union steward Mark Reyes offered to become her godfather, something “nobody had ever done for me and my family before.”

A similar act of kindness and compassion happened several years ago when he ended a difficult personal relationship and took full responsibility for his 7 children.

“It was holiday time and one of the union sisters at work, Christina Le Blanc who’s the Lead Sargent at Hanjin, asked me how I was planning to celebrate Christmas. I told her that it was going to be a little rough that year but that we’d be fine. She went out on her own and asked the other guards to pitch-in, and they made it possible for my kids to have something special during that difficult time.”

As the life of gang-banging and drug addiction was left behind, Gonzales says he now lives his life in recovery following a simple philosophy of what he calls “paying it forward.”

It started with an inspiration to buy boxes of frozen hamburger patties that he could grill for hungry people still stuck on the street. He quickly found others willing to help and says many of those volunteers were once living on the streets themselves during a difficult stretch. “We know what it’s like to be out there.”

Using Facebook, Gonzales has mustered a volunteer crew that prepares hundreds of sack lunches every Thursday, then distributes the meals to people living in the margins from Wilmington to LA’s Skid Row.

“We made 490 sack lunches last week and could have done a lot more but we just ran out of time,” he says, noting that groups and individuals are donating everything from bread and lunch meat, to their own labor. “We don’t have a formal non-profit group, but we do get the job done because everyone pitches-in to help the group that we call: ‘Heart of the Harbor/Helping Those in Need.’”

The group also helps with special needs or particular requests, such as one for diapers and wipes that was recently fulfilled with an online request to volunteers.

The biggest feeding effort so far took place on Saturday, October 3rd at Wilmington’s “Greenbelt Park,” between Watson and “L” Street. Volunteers began arriving at 7am to cook and prepare a hot lunch for hundreds from 12 noon onward. Among the many helpers were several of Gonzales’ seven children who are regular volunteers.

The first volunteer to join Gonzales was Nikki Fabela, Wilmington resident and daughter of Local 13’s Paul Fabel. “She was the first person who said she’d help me,” said Gonzales, “and her gesture of kindness is something I’ll never forget.”

“We know there are at least 8 people who have gotten off the streets and turned their lives around because of our help,” says Gonzales, who points to the turnaround in his own life as proof that dramatic changes are possible.

Gonzales says that their project is open to everyone and is not part of a church, but he says they do try to pause at some point during the busy volunteer times to give thanks and reflect on the pain and suffering faced by so many in the world – and how volunteers can make a difference with love and action.

Gonzales emphasizes that their group is eager to partner with individuals and like-minded organizations who can provide resources such as transitional housing, mental health services and recovery/rehabilitation support.

“My 17 years in the union have provided me with so much support that made my turnaround and recovery possible,” he says, adding that it has also expanded his perspectives, noting that he’s been able to meet people from all over the world and get beyond the small-minded thinking and bigotry that came with life in a gang. “I now see that all of us have so much in common, instead of focusing on difference like I used to, about how people looked or talked. I am truly grateful to all of my union brothers and sisters who have shown me so much solidarity and positivity during my years on the waterfront.”

Categories: Unions

ILWU members tell Oakland City Council to kill coal terminal plan

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 15:16

An overflow crowd at the Oakland City Council meeting on September 15 heard ILWU leaders taking passionate positions against a controversial coal export terminal that developers and coal industry lobbyists want to build on a private dock with public subsidies. Six hundred citizens submitted requests to speak at the hearing which began at 4pm and went late into the night.

Developer hiding

Master developer Phil Tagami was noticeably absent from the public hearing on the coal export terminal which has become a centerpiece of his redevelopment scheme that promised to transform Oakland’s former Oakland Army base into a mix of modern warehouses, intermodal hub and a “state of the art” privately-owned break-bulk dock.

Jobs Promised

To win crucial political support, Tagami claimed his project would create thousands of good-paying jobs, and told community and labor groups that most of those jobs would be union. But many of the groups negotiating with Tagami were unfamiliar with industry employment practices, which may have allowed the developer to use inflated and unrealistic numbers. Now Tagami has hitched his project’s to a controversial coal export terminal, and suggested that the entire project and thousands of jobs depend on the coal deal.

Coal lobbyists & lawyers

Instead of appearing in person at the September hearing, Tagami hired a slew of well-dressed lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen and preachers to make his case for the coal terminal. Lawyers made thinly-veiled threats that lawsuits would be filed if the developers didn’t get their way. One Washington D.C. lawyer declared that the city had no authority to regulate or limit railroads shipping coal to the export terminal.

Buying turnout

But despite hiring big guns, Tagami’s team had a hard time finding actual “concerned citizens” who supported the coal terminal, so they resorted to paying people to fill seats and wear t-shirts. The plan backfired when news reporters interviewed apparent “coal supporters” in the audience who quickly admitted they only came because they were paid. Some even expressed confusion about which side they were supposed to support.

Buying loyalty

The pay-to-play tactics included generous “offers” from the coal lobbyists to local churches and environmental groups – in exchange for backing the coal terminal. A team of former executives from the Port of Oakland reportedly offered church leaders 7 cents for every ton of coal that would be exported; environmental groups were offered a more generous 12 cents per ton. The environmental groups declined the offer; while some church leaders apparently accepted and attended the hearing to praise the proposal.

Labor unity & exceptions

The Alameda County Central Labor Council told City officials that unions had just passed a strong resolution opposing the coal export terminal, because it would provide few jobs, threaten nearby residents and harm efforts to control climate change. Two unions, the Teamsters and Laborers, tried but failed to stop the labor body from adopting the coal terminal resolution.

Both were told by the developer that the good union jobs being promised could not be delivered without the coal terminal. Teamster officials joined developer Phil Tagami in avoiding the public hearing, but lobbied for the coal project behind the scenes.

Broken promises

Developer Phil Tagami was singing a different tune several years ago when he was desperate to secure political support from labor unions, community and environmental groups for his development plan. He promised groups that coal would not be part of his project, then used their support to win approval from the Oakland City Council and $400-500 million in public subsidies. After winning political approval, it was revealed that developers were working closely with anti-union coal companies in Utah who desperately want a private dock to export their fuel abroad, and offered developers $53 million to make it happen.

Exporting coal abroad

Exports are crucial to North America’s coal industry because domestic consumption and prices are falling as the dirty fuel is replaced with cleaner and cheaper natural gas and alternatives such as solar. This reality has forced the coal industry – now almost entirely non-union – to sell their product abroad to countries with minimal environmental and worker safety protections, such as China, Vietnam, and India. These countries have historically resisted global agreements to limit greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change. China recently declared a willingness to adopt a market- based “cap-and-trade” system like America’s, which allows companies to “buy” their right to pollute.

Explaining ILWU views

The ILWU approached the coal hearing with a unified voice. Local 10, Local 34 and the Northern California District Council have all taken positions opposing the coal terminal. Local= 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad was the first ILWU member to speak at the public hearing on September 15. Muhammad immediately assailed the simplistic job arguments used by coal terminal supporters.

“Prostitution and drug dealing both create lots of jobs in Oakland, but they aren’t the kind of jobs we need,” said Muhammad, who declared that coal terminal jobs should be similarly unwelcome.

Chris Christensen, President of the Bay Area Longshoremen’s Memorial Association, also testified about the downside of coal jobs for the community and longshore workers and urged the City Council to oppose the coal export terminal.

Local 6 Secretary-Treasurer Fred Pecker represented the ILWU’s Northern California District Council, arguing that West Oakland residents have long suffered from heavy pollution in their neighborhood, and deserve better options than a coal terminal.

Expert testimony

A team of experts, including several current and former government officials, testified about the dangers of transporting and burning coal. They included the State of California’s former top environmental health official, a current EPA official and Alameda County’s public health officer.

The health officials joined engineering experts who said the coal terminal involved unnecessary health, environmental and economic risks. One expert noted that a similar expensive coal terminal investment by the Port of Los Angeles had failed to generate the jobs and business that were promised] by the coal industry.

Company threats

In addition to threatening lawsuits at the public hearing, coal interests have been quietly investigating several Oakland City Council members who expressed concern about the coal terminal.

A Denver-based law firm that represents the nation’s largest coal companies and Wall Street firms who finance them, is seeking emails, voice mails, texting and other communication records from Council members.

Media coverage

Media coverage of the September City Council hearing on the coal terminal was extensive, and some outlets have devoted resources to investigating the project in greater detail. Investigative reporter Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express has led the way by exposing the coal industry’s financial and lobbying networks that usually operate in the shadows.

“The bottom line,” says Local 10 President Melvin Mackay, “is that this coal terminal is not something members support because it’s bad for the community, bad for the union and bad for the environment.”

Categories: Unions

ILWU and community coalition challenge dangerous crude oil terminal in Vancouver, WA

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 14:10

Police were on hand to keep an eye on a group of protesters outside Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 5 on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 17, 2015. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)

Members of ILWU Local 4 have joined forces with community and environmental allies to stop a scheme by big oil that could ruin their port, close the Columbia River and turn their city into a disaster area.

Power play

Documents show that officials from the Port of Vancouver reached a deal in secret with oil companies to build the nation’s largest oil-to-marine export terminal without first holding public hearings on the controversial and dangerous proposal.

Four trains a day

Big oil wants to bring four “unit trains” a day to the Port of Vancouver. Each of the mile-long trains would carry 100 or more tank cars filled with highly volatile and explosive crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Each of the cars carry 30,000 gallons of highly flammable crude as the trains travel through dozens of towns before reaching the west coast.

Possible disaster

The possibility of a catastrophic disaster that could wipeout parts of Vancouver and other town became more real on July 6, 2013. That’s when a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded in a cataclysmic firestorm that destroyed much of Lac-Megantic, a town in Quebec, Canada. The disaster killed 47 residents and injured many others.

“Bringing this stuff into our town is just irresponsible and too dangerous,” says Local 4’s Cager Clabaugh  who has told Port Commissioners that “the risk isn’t worth the reward.”

He notes that Local 4 members opposed plans for an oil export terminal in their town before the 2013 disaster in Quebec, and have strengthened their resolve since.

“Before that disaster, oil industry lobbyists were assuring our Port Commissioners that this stuff was safe and there was nothing to worry about,” said Clabaugh. “They changed their tune after the Lac-Megantic disaster, but are still saying it’s safe enough and refuse to drop their dangerous plan.”

Many other incidents

A parade of crude-by rail calamities has hit communities in North America. Six months after the Lac- Megantic inferno, another fiery rail crash occurred in Casselton, North Dakota where a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train carrying Bakken crude exploded after a collision.

That North Dakota accident was the fourth major North American derailment of crude-carrying trains during a six-month period in 2013. A total of 24 serious oil train crashes have occurred in the U.S. since 2006, with five crashes so far in 2015, according to the Associated Press.

Fracking fuels oil boom

Record volumes of oil are moving by rail because oil production in North Dakota and Texas have shot to levels not seen in 30 years. The boom is based on “fracking,” a drilling technique that injects high-pressure chemicals underground to loosen oil and gas deposits.

The process allowed the U.S. to become the world’s largest oil producer in 2015–eclipsing Russia, and thus achieving a quiet but critical U.S. foreign policy goal of limiting Russia’s ability to gain influence through energy exports.

Financial pressure

The Port of Vancouver became entangled in the crude oil export scheme after incurring debts on a $275 million infrastructure improvement project, called the West Vancouver Freight Access. It aimed to expand rail capacity and hopefully attract new clients and jobs to the port. In 2012, Port officials thought they had a deal with BHP Billiton – one of the world’s largest mining companies – to export potash fertilizer from a new mine in Canada.

But that deal died and left the Port with no client, excess capacity and mounting debt payments on their new infrastructure project. That’s when officials began promoting the crude oil export terminal as the Port’s potential savior.

Secret deals

Wheels were greased for the oil export terminal in 2013 through a series of secret meetings with officials at the Port of Vancouver. The closed door meetings were recently analyzed in a series of reports published by the Columbian newspaper that examined 1600 pages of documents. The reports raised serious questions about possible violations of state laws and an erosion of the Port’s commitment to an open and democratic decision-making process.

Official amnesia

By early 2013, Port staff picked two powerful petroleum industry players – Tesoro and Savage – to operate the proposed oil terminal. One port commissioner admitted that decision “probably” took place in a closed-door executive session. Other commissioners say they can’t remember or agree on exactly what happened in the private meetings, but records show that oil executives met in private with Port officials in at least one closed-door session.

By April 18, Tesoro was moving forward with the project, and the next day, both companies received an exclusive negotiating agreement from the Port. On April 22, 2013, the companies formally announced plans for the oil export terminal.

Lawsuit filed

In a backwards decision-making process, the Port announced a series of hearings on safety and environmental concerns after – not before – making their secret deal with Tesoro and Savage.

Those hearings in the spring and summer of 2013 seemed like “window dressing” and a “rubber stamp to many citizens who responded by filing a lawsuit in October, 2013. The suit was backed by the Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

“It may be hard for some to believe, but environmental groups have been our most dependable allies in the fights we’ve had for good jobs in this community,” said Cager Clabaugh.

Secret meetings & finger-pointing

The lawsuit exposed thousands of pages of Port documents that appear to confirm violations of state laws prohibiting public agencies from conducting their business in secret. Documents show the Port held at least nine private meetings involving the oil export terminal.

After those meetings were exposed, the Port admitted holding at least seven secret meetings, but officials continue to insist that no laws were violated.

The lawsuit has led to the deposition under oath of three Port Commissioners about their role in the oil terminal deal. Two of the three commissioners have offered conflicting statements about whether they approved the secret development deal, or if it was approved by the Port’s CEO, Todd Coleman. In the midst of the controversy, Port Commissioner Nancy Baker announced she was stepping down and would not seek re-election.

“Managing” public concern

In one of their secret meetings held in April of 2013, oil and rail executives met privately with port commissioners Baker, Jerry Oliver and Brian Wolfe to strategize how to manage and neutralize concern and criticism from local citizens.

ILWU joins protests

ILWU Local 4 members and leaders have become part of the informal network of Vancouver citizen groups who are opposing the crude-oil export terminal. In addition to labor and environmental organizations, the diverse group of opponents includes local business owners and land developers who worry that the export terminal is a threat to property values and future development options.

Political showdown

An election to fill the open seat on Vancouver’s Port Commission this November is turning into a referendum on the crude oil export terminal.

In the August primary election, a field of seven candidates was whittled down to a showdown between Eric LaBrant who opposes the crude export terminal, and Lisa Ross, who strongly backs the project. The candidates also disagree on the Commission’s history of secret meetings, with LaBrant calling for a more open process and Ross defending deals that were reached in private. And if the crude oil terminal deal falls apart, Ross is open to replacing it with a coal export facility while LeBrant favors exporting hi-value manufactured goods made in the USA. As of September, the Ross campaign had raised $25,000, including money from oil interests, while LaBrant collected $15,000 – including a $1500 donation from the ILWU.

Governor’s decision

The lawsuit and Port Commission election remain a critically important part of the campaign. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee retains final authority to approve or reject the oil plan that will be reviewed by the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

“We intend to keep up the pressure and keep working with our allies in the community to dump this dangerous crude oil terminal plan and get the Port Commission back on the right track,” said Local 4’s President Jared Smith.

Categories: Unions

Pensioners Convention meets and takes action in San Francisco

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 10:57

Over 200 ILWU pensioners, spouses and guests gathered in San Francisco for the 48th Annual Pacific Coast Pensioners Association (PCPA) convention on September 6-9. This year’s convention looked ahead to the upcoming Presidential election, discussed the need for single payer health care in the United States and learned about long-term care insurance. Delegates heard about the struggle by dock workers in Colombia for fair wages and safe working conditions.

On the convention’s second day, delegates demonstrated at a local Whole Foods store in solidarity with Sakuma Farms workers in Washington State who are fighting for union recognition and a fair contract.

President’s report

In his PCPA President’s report, Rich Austin announced that he would not be running for re-election. Austin recapped his last year of activity – highlighted by 10 months serving as the pensioner representative on the Longshore contract negotiating committee. Austin said that

in 2013, the PCPA passed two resolutions that eventually made it to the negotiating table. The first was to increase benefits for people who retired prior to 2002. The other was to restore the Survivors’ Pension Benefit for survivors of pensioners if their marriage took place after retirement.

“We did pretty good on raising pre-2002 pensioner and surviving spouse benefits, but we need to do more work if we hope to achieve the restoration of benefits provision for post-retirement marriage survivors,” Austin said.

Austin also threw his support behind presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who is running for the Democratic Party nomination. “If for some reason he is not on the ballot next year, I will write him in. I will never again waste my vote on a free market, corporate-controlled neoliberal just because he or she claims to be a Democrat.”

ILWU speakers

Austin conveyed a central tenet of the PCPA; maintaining a productive relationship with the active\ ILWU members, the ILWU leadership, and providing assistance and support when called upon. Many active members of the ILWU know that pensioners are a valuable asset to the organization and provide consistent support through the PCPA.

The convention heard from several ILWU speakers, starting with ILWU International President Bob McEllrath on the convention’s first day. International Vice Presidents Ray Familathe and Wesley Furtado and International Secretary Treasurer Willie Adams also addressed the convention. Local 13 President Bobby Olvera Jr. and Local 94 President Danny Miranda also spoke and Local 63 President Joe Gasperov was in attendance.

Preserving labor history

Connor Casey, Labor Archivist from the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington, spoke about the importance of preserving the history of working people for current and future workers, historians and students. Casey told the delegates about the various resources available to individuals and locals to help them preserve important union records, correspondence and other materials that will be an invaluable resource in preserving the experience and voice of the working class.

Labor historian Ron Magden also spoke at the convention. He talked about his ongoing oral history project with historian Harvey Schwartz to record video interviews with ILWU pensioners. They conducted several oral histories during the convention. ILWU Archivist and Librarian Robin Walker and Schwartz led delegates on a Monday afternoon labor history tour of San Francisco. They visited important historical sites from the 1934 strike along the Embarcadero, toured the Jimmy Herman Cruise terminal and toured the ILWU International offices on Franklin Street.

Time out for activism

On Tuesday morning, PCPA delegated showed that their slogan, “Retired from the job, not the struggle,” is more than just words on a banner. Scores of delegates marched two blocks up to the local Whole Foods market for a solidarity demonstration in support of workers at Sakuma Farms in Washington State who are fighting for union recognition.

Farmworkers are promoting a boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, the label that distributes fruit harvested at Sakuma Farms. Over 40 pensioners along with ILWU International and Local union officers, including ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, International Vice President Ray Familathe and Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr, marched into the produce section of Whole Foods for a spirited rally. The demonstration was well received by shoppers who asked questions about the boycott. Rich Austin spoke with the Whole Foods manager who said she would raise the issue with her regional manager.

Featured speaker

Jhon Jairo Castro, president of the Buenaventura chapter of the Portworkers Union in Colombia was the convention’s featured speaker. Castro has worked as a longshoreman and labor rights organizer for more than 11 years. He discussed his experience as an Afro-Colombian labor leader in one of the deadliest countries in the world for trade union activists.

Sixty percent of Colombia’s imports and exports pass through the port of Buenaventura. Castro told of the negative impact that port privatization and the US-Columbia free trade agreement have had on his nation’s workers, especially the Afro-Colombian community. Castro said Afro-Colombians make up nearly 90 percent of Buenaventura’s population who suffer from high poverty rates, unemployment and a lack basic services such as hospitals.

Honoring Rich Austin

The convention took time out to honor the service of outgoing PCPA President Rich Austin. ILWU International President McEllrath thanked Austin for his leadership and support for active and retired members. McEllrath presented Austin with a bronze hook sculpture crafted by Local 19 pensioner and artist Ron Gustin. After a motion by Local 13 pensioner Tony Salcido, the convention voted unanimously to bestow Austin with the title of PCPA President Emeritus.

Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award

Local 10 pensioner Cleophas Williams received this year’s Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award, an annual honor bestowed to an outstanding labor activist. Williams was the first African American president of Local 10 who served three terms in that position. Williams thanked the PCPA for honoring him and said he intended to remain active in the PCPA.

New leadership

The transition to a new PCPA leadership team was reached smoothly on the final day of the convention. The new PCPA President will be Greg Mitre who has been heading the Southern California Pensioner’s Group. PCPA’s new Vice President will be Lawrence Thibeaux from the Bay Area Pensioners. John Munson from Bellingham will continue to serve as Recording Secretary and Christine Gordon from Southern California will serve as the new Treasurer.

The Executive Board will include Herman Moreno, Cleophas Williams, Jerry Bitz, Mike Mullen, Jim Davison, Maynard Brent, Michelle Drayton, Rich Austin and Tom Deusfrene with other Canadian delegates yet to be elected representing Canadian pensioners.

Adjournment until 2016 in Tacoma

Newly elected President Greg Mitre took the gavel and praised Rich Austin’s dedication, saying it would be hard to fill those shoes. He noted that next year’s convention will be held in Tacoma,WA from September 12th, – 14th and said he was looking forward to seeing everyone there in 2016.

Categories: Unions