The West Coast longshore employers group, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which has locked out 10,500 dockers, disrupted an Oct. 1 mediation meeting when its CEO, Joseph Miniace, walked in with an employer delegation accompanied by gun-toting security guards.

“This outrageous action … shows how they approach negotiations, hiding behind the government and armed thugs,” said International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) President James Spinosa, who led the union delegation out of the meeting in protest. “PMA’s lockout is holding a gun to the head of the American economy and now they move to aim real guns at us.” Alluding to George W. Bush’s threat to use the Navy to break the union’s struggle, Spinosa declared, “We will never reach an agreement as long as the PMA acts as if it can force a settlement at gunpoint rather than negotiate.”

The director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Peter Hurtgen, a Bush appointee, who convened the mediation meeting, released a statement criticizing the PMA, saying weapons-wielding guards were “inappropriate and a breach of bargaining protocol.”

The ILWU blasted the PMA lockout as an “outrageous” attack on union rights, charging the PMA is seeking to intimidate the union to accept an undesirable contract.

“This is a direct and very aggressive attack on our freedom to have a union. It goes far beyond a few planners’ jobs or clerks’ jobs – it is about our fundamental freedom to have a voice on the job,” Spinosa said at a San Francisco press conference Oct. 1.

Calling the lockout at 29 ports unnecessary, Spinosa challenged the PMA’s claims of a union slowdown. Dockworkers have moved “record numbers of cargo over the last three months” and are “ready and willing to work,” he said.

The lockout, which began Sept. 29, brought a swift reaction from labor unions, elected officials and the International Transportation Workers Federation (ITF).

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney demanded that the PMA end the lockout and “get back to the table.” In an Oct. 1 statement, Sweeney said the Bush administration “should publicly pledge that it will not intervene in the collective bargaining process, and under no circumstances use troops to support a lockout and undermine the basic rights of American workers,” Sweeney said.

The AFL-CIO leader also blasted the PMA for ignoring ILWU port security proposals and worker safety. “Five workers have died in the last seven months during a period of incredibly high cargo volume through the ports. Any worker injuries or deaths are too high a price to pay for companies’ ‘just in time’ delivery,” he said.

The union’s refusal to speed up, in response to these deaths and injuries, is what the PMA is calling a slowdown, despite record-breaking cargo numbers.

The ILWU has maintained picketlines outside terminals at all ports since the lockout began. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other AFL-CIO unions will not cross those lines.

Gary Smith, West Coast representative of the Teamsters Port Division, told the World independent truckers and Teamsters organized a caravan at the Los Angeles port this week in solidarity with dockers. When local police ticketed the drivers for disruptive honking, ILWU picketers immediately took up a collection to pay the fines.

“The PMA is displaying an attitude which is not accountable to anyone,” said Smith. “What is wrong with the ILWU following security rules because they don’t want their members to be killed?”

State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-San Fernando Valley), chair of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, initiated a strongly worded letter to Miniace, signed by 30 state legislators, refuting PMA charges of a worker slowdown and calling for an end to the lockout. Many members of Congress have conveyed the same message to Miniace.

The ITF, representing millions of transportation workers worldwide, has asked dockers unions to single out Maersk, Hanjin, APL and CSX shipping lines in actions to support the ILWU.

Miguel Contreras, financial secretary treasurer of the nearly 100,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, joined ILWU leaders at a Los Angeles port rally Sept. 28.

San Francisco Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Walter Johnson sent a forceful letter on behalf of the Council to Miniace saying, “We are beginning broad-based organizing to prepare for any action necessary, and rest assured our actions will be dramatic and forceful. It would be in your interest to move out of the ivory tower locker room and enter into real negotiations. Patience has its boundaries.”

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com

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