LOS ANGELES – The Longshore Division Caucus of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union overwhelmingly approved the tentative agreement signed by the ILWU negotiating committee and the Pacific Maritime Association on Dec. 12.

The Caucus, a representative assembly of each local, voted by 92.4 percent to recommend to the rank and file that they approve the agreement in next month’s membership vote.

‘I applaud the Caucus for their deliberative and decisive action. I am proud that our union remains true to its democratic roots and provides a forum for serious discussion and debate,’ said ILWU President James Spinosa after the vote.

‘Given the forces lined up against us – being locked out by our employer and having the Taft-Hartley injunction placed upon us – we didn’t just survive to fight another day, we came out with a contract any union would be proud to achieve,’ Spinosa said.

‘We beat back attempts to slash our health care coverage and succeeded in gaining pension raises for our retirees and widows. The Caucus recognized that this is truly an historic contract and we are urging all ILWU members to vote for ratification,’ said Spinosa.

Steve Stallone, ILWU communications director, described the Caucus atmosphere as unified. ‘There was a great comraderie of having gone through this attack and having come out on top. We worked together to make this work. It is the opposite of what the PMA thought, we are more united than ever before.’

Stallone gave much credit to the AFL-CIO for its solidarity throughout the battle. ‘From 20 full time staffers, including field researchers, weekly strategy meetings, to Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka’s sitting in on negotiations for six weeks, the AFL-CIO made a difference,’ Stallone said. ‘The ILWU and the AFL-CIO are closer than ever before in our history.’

Stallone said when Trumka spoke to the Caucus he described the agreement as the envy of all other unions, and having a big impact on other contracts. Trumka hailed the courage and discipline of the ILWU in the face of the attack from the Bush administration and the PMA, and brought a rousing, emotional response, Stallone said.

The tentative agreement reached will more than double the cost to the employers of maintaining the current health package – the best union health package in the country – improve wages and establish new safety provisions. It also provides a pension plan, which will be the best plan in the history of the labor movement. ‘This is the richest contract in ILWU history,’ Stallone said.

ILWU officers are touring the coast to address membership meetings about the agreement and to answer questions. The membership vote will take place by secret ballot from Jan. 6, 2003 until Jan. 13 at longshore and clerks locals. Results will be reported Jan. 24.

Stallone said the 7.6 percent that did not approve the contract were mostly concerned about union jurisdiction issues related to the new technology. Acknowledging that there is some ambiguity in the language, which may force arbitration fights, Stallone said Federal Mediator Peter Hurtgen told a press conference that his interpretation of the language is that those jobs would be union jobs.

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