Dockers crash shipping line party

LOS ANGELES – When Maersk Sealand, the largest shipping company in the world, opened its new facility, the largest terminal in the world, in the Port of Los Angeles Aug. 15, it threw itself a grand opening party. But nearly 2,000 fired-up longshore workers and their supporters crashed the bash, demanding that Maersk, one of the hard-line PMA members in the current contract negotiations, 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 ILWU. “Maersk says they’ve been good to us. But if they’re our friends, where’s our maintenance of benefits?” Arian asked.

Though Maersk supports PMA’s proposal to cut the union’s healthcare plan, the company reportedly blew more than a half-million dollars on its party. 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 with banners reinforcing the message reading, “ILWU wants a contract now.” Eight boats cruised near the new docks, carrying banners with the same slogan.

“We were almost outnumbered by the two Coast Guard boats and two Port Police boats,” said ILWU Local 13 member and ITF Inspector Rudy Vanderheider. “But when we went across the bow of the Coast Guard cutter, two ensigns stood at attention and saluted us. That’s cool, these guys are behind us.”

Adding international pressure to the ILWU’s cause, members of the Danish dockers’ union Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark (SiD) delivered a letter to Maersk Sealand executives at their headquarters in Copenhagen the same day. “We strongly urge you to speak to the PMA to resolve the outstanding negotiation issues with the ILWU,” said the SiD.

Steve Stallone is the ILWU communications director and editor of its newspaper The Dispatcher. This is reprinted from The Dispatcher.