ILWU makes waves in port talks

| 8/28/2002

Labor negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association resumed Monday. Negotiations were put on hold Aug. 13 after the death of ILWU President Jim Spinosa's father.

Union crashing shipping giant's party

As the "big table" negotiations continue, the ILWU Safety Committee and its PMA counterparts are working on safety codes for dockworkers. While the union safety committee is focusing on three main issues - diesel emissions in the workplace, defibrillators and port security, they say employers insist on discussing floating the load, mounting and dismounting of equipment, and how to place and remove cones during a bombcart operation.

The ILWU Safety Committee feels the employers are focusing on these issues to lay the legal groundwork to selectively punish workers and to controvert injury claims.

The union has accused employers of violating the negotiating process by making a flyer about the issue of mounting and dismounting equipment and sending it out attached to ILWU members' paychecks. In updates to its members, the union reminds its members to get their information from the union and to be suspicious of anything the employers put out, especially during these contentious negotiations.

The ILWU Safety Committee also is raising the matter of the employers' obligation to issue safety shoe vouchers by July 1. The union says employers have responded that since there is no new contract they are not required to provide the vouchers. However, the union maintains that since they have been working with a contract renewed day-to-day, the voucher requirement is still in effect. The union committee says it will continue to press this point.

More than 200 leaders of dockworker unions worldwide have pledged support for the ILWU in its bargaining with the shipping and dock working companies of the Pacific Maritime Association and signed a letter to President Bush demanding he stop interfering in the negotiations. At its annual Congress, held in Vancouver, British Columbia over the weekend of Aug. 17, the International Transport Workers Federation Dockers Section, representing 400,000 port workers in the sea transportation industry in 170 countries, passed a strongly worded resolution committing themselves to a successful conclusion to the ILWU's negotiations.

The docker union leaders also sent a letter to Bush telling him in part, "Negotiations on the future of the longshore industry and issues such as job security and technological change should take place through free collective bargaining between employees and management, without heavy-handed intervention by government officials at the request of corporate executives."

The ITF's support came just days after the Aug. 16 joint state legislative hearing on federal intervention into the port labor negotiations. Hundreds of longshore workers and their supporters packed the Banning Landing Community Center for the hearing. Before introducing the first witnesses, State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar, CA), chair of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, said, "When Bush got involved in the negotiating process, we felt it was absolutely necessary to hold this hearing. It's an inappropriate use of federal power. It's unconscionable to use concerns about September 11 to block the collective bargaining process. That's the right of American workers."

State Rep. Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood, CA), chair of the Assembly's Labor and Employment Committee, also opened by criticizing Bush interference in the bargaining. "This administration sees legal union activity as a threat," he said.

The joint committee heard witnesses from labor, management and the community, followed by an open forum. Labor witnesses included Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Miguel Contreras, ILWU Legislative Action Committee co-chair Peter Peyton, ILWU Longshore Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon, Teamsters West Coast Port Organizer Gary Smith and International Association of Machinists Lodge 1484 President Kevin Kucera.

Contreras denounced the administration's intervention into the negotiations as part of an anti-worker policy. "From day one Bush had an agenda to crush unions," he said. "No president should be allowed to rob American workers of their best weapon - the right to strike."

PMA chief Joe Miniace also declined to appear. He sent Jack Suite, PMA's director of contract administration, instead. Suite claimed the government's concern with the contract talks was understandable.

"The damage to the economy of a strike is obvious," he said.

Suite said the PMA had not encouraged the Bush administration to intervene and he denied PMA ever had talks with the government about the threats made to the union. But when State Rep. Koretz asked if PMA would directly ask Bush to stay out of the negotiations, Suite would make no commitment.

The day before the hearing, longshore workers crashed a grand opening party held by Maersk Sealand, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, to celebrate the opening of Maersk's new facility in the Port of Los Angeles. Nearly 2,000 "fired-up" longshore workers and their supporters crashed the bash, demanding Maersk drop its push for concessions from the union.

"Today we are beginning phase two of our bargaining, making the companies accountable," said Dave Arian, the alternate negotiator for Local 13. "Maersk says they've been good to us. But if they're our friends, where's our maintenance of benefits?"

Maersk built a wall of containers between the rally site and the party, but the demonstrators roared their demands loud enough to be heard, "What do we want? CONTRACT! When do we want it? NOW!" Two small planes flew low overhead and eight boats cruised near the new docks, all carrying banners reinforcing the message reading, "ILWU wants a contract now."
--René Tankersley