Disputes over jurisdiction with other unions and vexation with the AFL-CIO are being highlighted this week by leaders of the two major unions for U.S. longshoremen.
Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which is holding its convention in San Diego, Calif., said some attendees have been expressing “frustration about working with the AFL-CIO. I think this is the residual related to the situation with EGT in which one of the AFL-CIO unions was perceived to be scabbing during the dispute.”
EGT, an export grain terminal located in Longview, Wash., was the scene last year of massive protests when the owners of the facility hired a contractor employing members of the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The ILWU represents nearly all dockworkers on the West Coast of the United States and Canada and believed the Operating Engineers were infringing on their historic area of jurisdiction.
EGT eventually signed a contract with ILWU Local 21 and resolved charges with the National Labor Relations Board, but the dispute was costly for both the union and protesters.
More than 100 cases were filed against ILWU officers, members, and supporters who were involved in the protests, some for demonstrating at railroad tracks and around EGT’s facility. One of those arrested was ILWU President Robert McEllrath.
Charges against protesters included disorderly conduct, trespassing, train blocking, and assault. The ILWU said charges were dropped against “dozens” of demonstrators, some were found not guilty, but said others have taken plea deals to avoid what the union says are “trumped up felony charges.” So many cases were brought that the local Longview newspaper's “Police Blotter” periodically has a small section devoted to their disposition.
ILWU is also appealing to the Federal Court of Appeals of $300,000 in contempt fines ordered by a Federal District Court, and has also filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Longview, Cowlitz County and various officials
“The Operating Engineers went in there to work in the middle of the dispute,” Merrilees said. “There has been some resentment about that and it has been discussed here” at the convention.
Jurisdiction was also highlighted by Harold Daggett, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), who was invited to speak to the ILWU convention. The ILA represents dockworkers on the East and Gulf coasts and is in the midst of negotiating a new contract with employers.
“Other unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO and some aligned with Change to Win have infringed on our historical jurisdiction,” Daggett said. The Teamsters, which is affiliated with Change to Win, represent dockworkers who work for some carriers such as Crowley Maritime.
“Relating to our sacred history, Bob (McEllrath) noted very eloquently that since the advent of cargo shipment, it was ‘Men Along the Shore,’ or longshore workers who loaded and unloaded ships. It wasn’t Operating Engineers along the shore, or SIU (Seafarers International Union) along the shore or Teamsters along the shore,” Daggett said.
“The question must be asked: Why do the ILA and ILWU belong to organizations like the AFL-CIO if we are not afforded the so-called Article 20 protection that is part of the AFL-CIO constitution and is there to honor virgin jurisdiction? Our two great labor organizations are not the only maritime bodies that are frustrated by the aggressive assaults on the jobs that belong to us,” Daggett said.
Elsewhere in his speech, Daggett said that major issues that need to be addressed in the current contract include plans by terminal operators for more automation and new technology, the decision by many carriers to eliminate their own chassis fleets and rely on pools maintained by other companies, safety issues, training, and the ILA’s desire to have inbound containers weighed so the union is not shortchanged by carriers underpaying container royalties which are based on cargo weight.
In recent weeks the union and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX), which represents ILA employers, have exchanged sharp words, with James Capo, USMX chief executive officer, calling on the ILA to bargain in good faith, and Daggett complaining about “personal attacks.”
But both Capo and ILA spokesman James McNamara confirmed that the two sides will resume negotiations on June 27-29.
Some shippers have expressed concern about the tone of negotiations between the ILA and USMX this year.
But Thomas Simmers, president and CEO of Ceres Terminals, said Wednesday in Newark, N.J., after a panel discussion on the future of the port industry sponsored by the Transportation Research Forum, that the ILA and management have a long history of labor peace in recent decades. The last coastwise strike was in 1977.
He also said it was still early in the negotiating process, noting that the contract with the ILA does not expire until the end of Sept. 30.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. - Chris Dupin