BROOKLYN, N.Y-Longshore workers were proud of solidarity actions they took – which shut down the East Coast’s biggest port – by refusing to cross the picket lines their brother and sister workers from Philadelphia set up. The picketers, members of the same union, the International Longshoreman’s Association, were protesting plans by fruit-giant Del Monte to move their Philadelphia shipping operations to a non-union pier.
“The guys and women were all a bit nervous, I guess,” said Marty, who runs a diner in Brooklyn’s Red Hook section, yesterday, September 29, just as the strike was ending. “But they were proud, too.”
About 3,500 workers stayed off the job from New York to Philadelphia the first day, while another 1,000 stayed away in Baltimore. The stoppage marks the first time the Port of New York and New Jersey has been shuttered by a labor dispute since the mid-1970s.
The wildcat strike, which occurred September 28 and 29, was not been sanctioned by the union itself, though it was sympathetic.
“The ILA recognizes the frustration of its members resulting from the disingenuous contract negotiating of Del Monte and the predatory pricing actions” of Holt Logistics, which runs the non-union dock to where Del Monte wants to move its operations.
Bananas and pineapples had been unloaded for Del Monte by ILA workers. However, the corporation unilaterally decided to move the unpacking operations at Pier 5, in Camden, N.J., to the Holt pier in Gloucester, N.J. According to the ILA, this move could cost workers there, members of Local 1291, upwards of 200 jobs.
While Del Monte argued that Holt’s pier was better equipped, the real reason for the move is simple: the company does not want to deal with the union or contracts. Workers at the non-union dock will be paid less than half of what the ILA workers receive.
“One guy was saying that he’d rather take a job at McDonald’s or Starbucks,” Marty, the diner’s owner said, referring to workers’ reactions to the wages at the Holt plant. “He’d get paid more and wouldn’t have to worry about a bunch of shit falling on him.” Workers on the docks, where huge containers the size of trucks are loaded and unloaded, do worry about mishaps, though safety standards are in place.
On July 22, Del Monte demanded, according to the ILA, “that the ILA reduce labor costs by $5 million and imposed an unreasonable four-day deadline on the ILA to meet its demands.” Though the workers had not received pay increases in a whopping 19 years, the hard-pressed union agreed to a 25 percent reduction and other givebacks.
Despite meeting Del Monte’s demands, the ILA lost the contract to Holt whose predatory pricing displaces family jobs and creates a class of working poor.”
Prior to the work stoppage, the union urged the AFL-CIO to put a boycott on all Del Monte products, in order to “raise awareness” among the federation’s 11.5 million members.
Much of the reason for the union leadership’s hesitation in supporting a strike action is due to a federal injunction against ILA workers “interfering” in the Del Monte’s or the port’s business operations.
While the strikers have returned to work, many feel that they have “served notice” to Del Monte that unilateral actions will not be tolerated. Union leadership and the picketers said “that it would meet immediately with United States Maritime Alliance and New York Shipping Association representatives to address the loss of jobs.”
While the strike was technically illegal, charges against the workers are not likely to be pursued.
“They’re frustrated and p—-ed off,” Marty said. “I don’t think hardly any of them gave a s–t about the restraining order.”
Whether Del Monte is able to go ahead with the switch, scheduled for today, October 1, remains to be seen.