Dockers battle for safety on the ports

LOS ANGELES – The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is charging that the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) demands for higher productivity are resulting in horrible safety conditions for dockworkers.

According to the union, while the PMA has raised false warnings about slowdowns by the ILWU during negotiations, the reality is that the push for higher productivity has led to injuries and five workers’ fatalities over the last six months.

“The PMA’s constant push for more productivity is making a bad problem even worse,” said ILWU International President James Spinosa in the Sept. 17 press release. This push has increased even as negotiations have continued.

“The docks are already dangerously congested, but during these negotiations several terminal operators tried to raise their posted speed limits from 10 or 15 miles an hour to 25,” continued Spinosa. None of the employers’ equipment has speedometers. “Accidents occur all too often and that is why one of the demands we have on the table in these negotiations is to have speedometers put in all the power industrial trucks on the docks,” Spinosa said.

The human toll of the PMA’s productivity drive is shocking. On March 14, John Prohoroff, ILWU Local 94, was killed while routinely preparing a ship to be worked at SSA’s Long Beach terminal when the line of one of the ship’s cranes broke, dropping a 3,000-pound metal ring on him.

The following day, Mario Gonzalez, ILWU Local 26, was operating a huge mill that shreds cars into scrap metal at Hugo Neu-Proler’s facility at the Port of Los Angeles. When the machine jammed and Gonzalez went in to fix it, the several-ton door closed on his chest, killing him.

From June to September, three more waterfront workers were killed, Dick Peters at the Port of Eureka, Richie Lopez, Jr. at Port Hueneme in Ventura County and the latest victim, Rudy Acosta, was run over, Sept. 3, by a top handler at the Pacific Container Terminal operated by SSA at the Long Beach port.

According to the PMA’s own records, there were 6,719 job injuries on the West Coast between July 1, 1999 and May 22, 2002. In addition to that, many PMA employers regularly deny compensation coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act, a practice known as controverting claims.

The ILWU is targeting SSA, the largest stevedoring company in the country, with protest rallies, Sept. 18. SSA, notorious around the world for union busting practices, has been the biggest obstacle to completing a fair contract, according to the union.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com