LA Dockworker lottery is ‘false dream,’ says ILWU Local 13 longshore workers’ union leader

LA Dockworker lottery is ‘false dream,’ says ILWU Local 13 longshore workers’ union leader

ILWU Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr. speaks to hundreds of longshoremen gathered for work at the ILWU dispatch hall in Wilmington on Jan. 2, 2015. File photo. (Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)
By Rachel Uranga, LA Daily News

Longshoremen wait for available dock jobs to be called for an evening shift at the ILWU dispatch hall in Wilmington on Jan. 2, 2015. File photo. (Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)
The high-profile drawing for part-time jobs that could lead to full-time positions pulling in more than $100,000 a year creates a “false dream,” the head of the powerful Southern California dockworkers’ union said Friday.

The Pacific Maritime Association, representing shippers and terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, insists the rare lottery prevents labor shortages by creating a ready pool of fill-in workers. The jobs start at about $25 an hour, but wages increase with experience. More appealing to applicants, however, is that the jobs can provide a path for workers to secure full-time union employment.

But union officials, who agreed to the drawing, say current freelancers, known as “casuals,” have been waiting and working for more than a decade in hopes of snagging a union gig.

“You’re winning a ticket to a false dream,” said Bobby Olvera Jr., president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13, which represents about 7,000 full-time union workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. “There are 5,000 (casuals) down there getting work two days a week.”

Olvera worries that bringing in more casuals allows the PMA — which negotiates and administers labor agreements with the ILWU on behalf of dozens of shipping companies and terminal operators — to dilute the talent pool and pay newer freelance workers less.

PMA spokesman Wade Gates wrote in a statement that terminal employers and the ILWU “work together to maintain a balanced approach on the number of full-time registered workers needed at the ports, as well as the number of approved casual workers.”

“These decisions are based on projected cargo volumes, gradual attrition in the workforce and other factors,” he stated. “Obviously, too many positions dilute the work opportunities for the individuals involved, and too few available workers can limit the ports’ ability to meet cargo-handling needs.”

Olvera maintains that there are too many casual workers for the shifts that are available.

“There is zero labor shortage,” he said, noting that he’s not heard a single case of jobs not getting fulfilled on the docks because there aren’t enough hands to handle it.

There are about 5,000 casuals who pick up intermittent work at a dispatch center in Wilmington.

About 46 percent of those casuals trained and approved to work make themselves available during any given week last year, according to the PMA. And those casuals worked on average 1.6 eight hour shifts per week.

The ILWU and PMA share a long history of contentious relations. Labor strife hobbled trade in 2014 and 2015 during bitter contract talks.

Most recently, the two have been locked in a dispute over the lottery process after some hopefuls who had filled out cards and mailed them in had them returned to their homes. The ILWU initially refused to participate in the drawing.

The lottery was temporarily halted earlier this week until an arbitrator ruled the process must go forward. The ILWU appealed the decision. Its appeal will be heard during a hearing Tuesday.

Meantime, InterOptimis, a business-services company based in Moorpark, is counting and verifying an estimated 80,000 submissions.

The last drawing was held in 2004, when about 18,000 names were pulled. Most eventually went into the casual pool. After years of waiting for full-time work, many frustrated casuals dropped out.

Olvera said the last time the PMA hired casuals on as full-time union members was in 2015, when 600 workers were hired.

In this round, the first 2,400 names picked will be eligible for the freelance positions.