Born Dec. 4, 1946, Arian was the son of a longshoreman and was 18 years old when he took a job on the waterfront in the Wilmington section of Los Angeles in 1965.
“He often joked that at just 130 pounds, union supervisors weren’t sure he’d be able to do the physically demanding work of a longshoreman. But like many aspects of his life, Arian proved his skeptics wrong. That first day unloading bananas into boxcars was just the first of many that he would spend working, organizing and leading union workers and causes important to the workers and the San Pedro Bay community,” said an obituary published by the port authority.
Before being elected to the ILWU’s top post, he held a number of leadership positions in the union, including three terms as president of Local 13. He returned to the docks after being defeated for re-election in 1994 and retired in 2009. Within a year, he was appointed to the Los Angeles Harbor Commission by then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and reappointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013.
“Dave was constantly encouraging young people to step forward,” said current International President Willie Adams. “Dave was a mentor to many young leaders and his influence and impact will be felt in the ILWU for years to come.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “David Arian embodied what service means for his fellow human being. From the docks to the boardroom, his humor, his intelligence and his commitment to justice built the most successful port in the Americas while doing right for the workers and the community that are the lifeblood of the harbor community. Our city and our world are better places because of David Arian’s extraordinary career and because of his deep humanity. I will miss his friendship and his steady hand. He’s probably organizing workers in heaven right now.”
Los Angeles 15th District City Councilman Joe Buscaino said, “Our waterfront community has lost a friend, a fighter, a mentor, a labor leader and a legend. Dave Arian has given so much to our community and his contributions will never be forgotten. May he continue to live in our hearts and may his memory be a blessing.”
Jaime Lee, president of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, said, “Dave brought incredible passion, perspective and authenticity to his commission work. He was greatly respected by his board colleagues, port staff and the entire harbor community. His leadership is irreplaceable, and we are devastated by his loss.”
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said. “Dave’s contributions to the port, the maritime industry, the community, the environment and the working men and women of the waterfront are beyond measure. He brought genuine care and commitment to the community in all his work. He was a fighter for social and economic justice his entire life and a gracious fighter in his battle with cancer. We will miss him, his expertise, his sense of humor and selfless dedication to making the port work for the betterment of all.”
Arian and his family helped found the San Pedro Community Action Center in 1966. Over the years, he was also an active supporter of many local service organizations, including the Toberman Neighborhood Center, Harbor Interfaith Services and the San Pedro Boys & Girls Club, the latter where he played as a youth.
Arian founded the Harry Bridges Institute, an organization named for the ILWU’s first president that dedicated to educating younger workers about the labor movement’s history and community organizing. He had served as its president since its founding in 1993. (In this short video Arian talks about Bridges. Several others also are posted from the series “Stories of the L.A. Harbor” here. )
A longtime resident of the harbor area, Arian grew up on Eighth Street in San Pedro and attended Cabrillo Elementary, Dana Junior High School and San Pedro High School. He is survived by his two children and five grandchildren.