Dockers protest increased work loads

OAKLAND, Calif. – As part of a mounting campaign to pressure employers to begin bargaining seriously about maintaining union jurisdiction over new technology jobs on the waterfront, hundreds of members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s (ILWU) held noon-hour protests at the docks and offices of Stevedoring Services (SSA) of Long Beach and Oakland, California, and in Seattle, Washington.

In Oakland, Maersk/Sealand, a major shipping company and object of a union protest a week earlier, shifted lunch hour from noon to 11 a.m. in an effort to keep longshore workers from taking part in the SSA protest. The effort failed, as most of the workers participated in a rally followed by a march to the gates of Matson Co., a company that contracts with SSA. While there, Local 10 officers presented a letter to SSA management calling on the company to cooperate in “pursuing meaningful negotiations between PMA and ILWU.”

In a fact sheet given to reporters, the union pointed out that as far back as the mid-1990s SSA “systematically moved” several hundred ILWU jobs to Salt Lake City. The company operates several off-dock container storage yards under the guise of separate corporate entities to avoid honoring ILWU contracts. SSA claims to have no control over these containers, the handling of which is now being done by union workers.

Work at facilities owned by Container Freight Stuffing (CFS) was formerly done by ILWU members at terminals such as Matson at Los Angeles/Long Beach. But when SSA became Matson’s stevedore company, the CFS work was shut down and shifted to off-dock non-union workplaces.

The ILWU also charged SSA, which has the largest block of votes on the PMA bargaining committee, of being responsible for hiring Joseph Miniace, who has taken a hard-line position against recognizing ILWU jurisdiction over new jobs.

SSA is the largest stevedoring company in the U.S and fourth largest in the world. In other countries SSA is known for working to undermine union contracts. Workers at SSA have been involved in two fatalities among five that occurred on West Coast docks in the past six months. The fatalities served to underscore the fact that longshore work is among the most dangerous occupations in the country.

ILWU President Jim Spinosa said, “PMA’s constant push for more productivity is making a bad problem worse. It’s way past time our employers start taking health and safety concerns seriously. It’s bad enough when accidents happen, but now they [the PMA] are opposing safety regulations or attempts to minimize hazardous exposures.”

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org