LAS VEGAS – To a roar of cheers and applause, Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), told the 24th AFL-CIO Convention Dec. 4, “We are going to take back the ports of North America for labor. We’re telling the steamship lines and the owners that we’re going to organize the ports wall-to-wall union.”

Earlier, at a press conference, Hoffa, Jim Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and John Bowers, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, announced the formation of a “historic” alliance of the three unions.

Juan Rodriguez, a port driver from Newark, N.J., spoke about the immediate reason for the alliance. He described the terrible working conditions facing 50,000 port drivers around the country.

After Longshore workers unload ships, the port drivers truck the containers and goods from the docks to inland terminals and warehouses for further transportation. Port drivers are “independent contractors,” who make about eight dollars an hour, with no medical coverage or pension benefits. They are forced to pay all their own expenses, including fuel costs.

Port drivers are often required to spend many unpaid hours, either waiting for loads or even cleaning containers. Sometimes the containers are contaminated with unlabeled toxic materials. The largest percentage of the drivers are immigrants.

The immediate goal of the alliance is to organize these 50,000 port drivers into the Teamsters union with the active participation and help of both longshore unions. According to Hoffa, while there have been problems in the past with jurisdictional disputes, now all three unions are united and will also work together on issues like port security and safety.

Hoffa pointed out that the alliance continues a dream first advanced by his father and Harry Bridges to build a federation of transportation unions. Many believe that the attacks on Bridges and Hoffa were in large part motivated by employer fear of a coast-to-coast transportation federation.

George Cashman, the director of the Teamsters Port Division, told the World, “We think this alliance is also very important in terms of globalization. The first part of our name is ‘international.’ Our port alliance, in solidarity with port and transportation workers around the world can be a real force for raising international standards. Transportation is a key pressure point for workers in globalization.”

Spinosa, citing the case of the Charleston Five, pointed out the importance of the solidarity of West Coast and East Coast longshore workers and noted the Teamsters’ pledge in the alliance to fully mobilize to fight the constant attacks on the longshore unions.

In the wake of the September terrorist attacks, some in Congress have used concerns about port security to propose measures aimed at ending union hiring halls on the docks. This would be a direct union-busting measure to destroy longshore and maritime unions.

Hoffa’s speech came during the debate on the first resolution to come before the convention, entitled, “Building a Larger, Stronger Movement of America’s Workers,” on organizing.

Hoffa described the port drivers as some of the most exploited workers in the U.S. “We have a message for the port drivers and their families. Our alliance will not stop until you win and have your piece of the American dream.”