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K1. Business Unions

President William “Willie” Adams leads new union team: ILWU’s first African-American President is elected

ILWU - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 09:22

SAN FRANCISCO – The ILWU’s first contested election in 18 years has yielded a new union leadership team led by William “Willie” Adams, along with Vice President (Mainland) Robert “Bobby” Olvera, Jr., Vice-President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado, and Secretary-Treasurer Edwin “Ed” Ferris. Also elected were incumbent Coast Committeemen Frank Ponce De Leon and Cam Williams.

“Our team intends to carry forward the ILWU’s progressive tradition into the 21st Century,” said Adams, who was raised in Kansas City and worked as a longshoreman at the Port of Tacoma, Washington, before coming to San Francisco where he has served as International Secretary-Treasurer since 2003.  The ILWU’s 2018 election was conducted during the summer with results certified yesterday in a vote by the union’s International Executive Board.

Adams, who also serves as Vice-President on San Francisco’s Port Commission, said he and his team are “ready to meet the political and economic challenges ahead by involving our rank-and-file membership to help working families in our union and communities.”  Adams and his team will serve for three-year terms.

The ILWU represents 50,000 members working in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and Panama

Categories: K1. Business Unions

Indoor heat kills & injures workers, so why isn’t there a law to stop it?

ILWU - Fri, 10/19/2018 - 15:31

Cal-OSHA Standard Board: Shown here in 2016, the Board is deciding whether to adopt an indoor heat standard to protect workers while employers try tokill or water-down any new rule.

When workers go to work during the summer months at Rite Aid’s Distribution Center in the Mojave Desert, their million-square-foot steel building without air conditioning can sometimes feel like an oven.

Danger is real

Laboring inside hot buildings has long been recognized by workers and medical experts as dangerous, but employers have successfully blocked state and federal laws to protect workers.

Local 26 President Luisa Gratz is trying to change that by working with a team of volunteers and medical experts – coordinated by the Worksafe! Advocacy group – who are pressing Cal-OSHA to adopt a new “indoor heat standard.” Gratz knows firsthand how dangerous a hot building can be for employees; she once worked in a facility where co-workers passed-out from the high heat.

One death is too many
“A worker died a decade ago at the Rite Aid warehouse in Lancaster when it was hot,” she says. “It’s outrageous, but the history of health and safety laws in the U.S. seems to be based on the principle that workers have to die before protections can be passed.”

Protections long overdue

Gratz is aware of workers in many other warehouses and offices who have experienced symptoms of heat stress and heat exhaustion that include passing out on the job. She says a law protecting employees against hazardous indoor heat is long overdue, recalling that when Rite Aid workers formed their union 10 years ago, they were motivated in part by the death of a coworker believed to be the first victim of heat inside their warehouse. That tragedy sparked workers to organize and negotiate the first indoor heat contract language for warehouse workers in the nation. Their action forced management to install evaporative coolers and provide additional water breaks when indoor temperatures spiked. “It was a good start, but with climate change creating hotter conditions, we need stronger protections,” said Gratz.

Searching for support in Sac

 

Gratz and other union supporters have spent years urging Cal-OSHA’s Standards Board in Sacramento to pass regulations with teeth to protect workers from excessive indoor heat. Stronger regulations were passed by the legislature at one point, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger at the request of business interests. The 7-member Board appointed by Governor Brown now has two vacancies and is hampered by industry lobbyists who often slow progress to a crawl and undermine even the smallest reforms. The situation with OSHA in Washington, D.C. is even worse, with President Trump, now rolling-back workplace protections.

Brown bows to business

Not long ago, the possibility of passing indoor heat protections in California looked promising after Governor Brown appointed Ellen Widess, a strong worker advocate, to head Cal- OSHA. But after several years, industry groups ganged-up against Widess, and eventually forced her to resign. The shakeup further emboldened industry groups who won a more “business friendly” approach to workplace safety at the expense of workers. Today, Cal- OSHA plods along with too few inspectors (far less per-capita than Oregon and Washington) and too little clout to punish employers who continue killing roughly 400 workers per year, a number that has held steady for most of the decade.

Gratz says the rule-making process is frustrating, but she and others remain determined to keep pushing for statewide indoor heat protections. Her work is part of a larger coalition effort that includes unions and safety advocates operating under the banner of “Worksafe!” – a statewide network that includes the ILWU. Gratz and others sent a letter to Cal-OSHA this past June, detailing the criteria for a good indoor heat standard:

  • The trigger for worker protection should be based on a “heat-index” that combines temperature and humidity. Industry opposes the index in favor of a weaker standard based only on “dry bulb” temperature. Gratz says a “wet bulb” temperature test that includes humidity provides a more accurate measurement and is crucial to protect workers.
  • The trigger heat-index should be set at 80 degrees, the number originally proposed by Cal-OSHA experts. Industry lobbyists raised it to 85 degrees, a move Gratz and others described as a “step backward” that contributes to heat exhaustion, heat stress, other illness and death.
  • They stated workers who labor outside are already covered by a state law requiring mandatory shade breaks for temperatures over 80 degrees, so indoor workers should have the same protection.
  • Industry wants indoor heat protections for only a narrow list of named industries – excluding workers not specifically mentioned. Gratz and others want a standard covering all indoor workplaces, including offices and freight containers.
  • Workers operating inside hot structures and offices should be guaranteed hourly “cool-down” breaks, but the California Chamber of Commerce and other groups oppose these protections.
  • The proposed standard would guarantee that workers shall be able to choose a representative of their choice to monitor employer compliance with these protections. This proposed Cal-OSHA standard would help workers with and without unions.

Details of these and many other parts of the proposed Indoor Heat Rules are still being debated by the Cal-OSHA Standards Board – and sandbagged by industry lobbyists. The challenge is something Gratz has met before, but continues to fight for worker health and safety.

“Meaningful change for workers only happens when there’s pressure from below,” she says. “Top management gets to make their decisions from air conditioned offices while folks on the floor are sweating to meet their production quotas. Changing that kind of injustice requires people to be organized, united and speak-up.”

Categories: K1. Business Unions

51st annual Pacific Coast Pensioners convenes in Portland

ILWU - Thu, 10/18/2018 - 12:43

Pensioner power trio: (L-R) Canadian Pensioners Club President Tom Dufresne, PCPA President Greg Mitre and Local 142 Pensioner/Memorial Association
Director Clayton Dela Cruz, each shared their views about the union’s future.

The Pacific Coast Pensioners Association (PCPA) held their 51st Annual Convention from September 16-19 in Portland, OR. A total of 154 people attended this year’s meeting including 88 PCPA delegates who tackled issues ranging from Long Term Health Care Insurance to the importance of getting out- the-vote for pro-union candidates in the November mid-term elections.

The convention was dedicated to the memory of pensioners who have passed since the last convention.

Elected officers from the International and local unions included ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams, Local 13 President Mark Mendoza, Local 63 President Joe Gasperov, Local 10 President Melvin Mackay, Local 10 Secretary- Treasurer Farless Daily, and Local 8 President Bruce Holte. Also attending were Vanetta Hamlin and Trevor McCoy from the Bay Area Longshoremen’s Memorial Association (BALMA). Those unable to attend this year’s event due to the ILWU Hawaii Convention included International President Robert McEllrath, Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe, Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado and Coast Committeemen Frank Ponce De Leon and Cam Williams who all sent their regards.

Support for Dave Arian

PCPA President Greg Mitre began the proceedings with an announcement about Southern California Pensioner Dave Arian, who has been an active PCPA member since he retired from his waterfront career that included serving as ILWU International President and President of Local 13.

Mitre said Arian is fighting a rare form of thyroid cancer that prevented him from attending this year’s convention. “Dave has a love for the ILWU that runs deeper than I have ever known. It probably hurts Dave more to be missing the convention than we miss having him here,” Mitre said. On the convention’s last day, Mitre used his phone to place a video call that allowed Arian to see and hear the expressions of love and support coming to him from delegates and guests.

Guest speakers

Mitre then introduced Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith who is running for a seat on the Portland City Council. Commissioner Smith spoke about the important role of pensioners in our political system and praised the work by labor unions to protect wages and working conditions of all workers. “Without you, there would be no America,” Smith said.

ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams was introduced and declared that he had attended each of the PCPA conventions during the past 14 years. “For me it all starts with the PCPA and I wanted to come and pay my respects for all that you have done for us,” Adams said.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley was unable to attend the convention in person, but sent a video message thanking the pensioners for their decades of work as active ILWU members, and congratulating them for securing good wages and pensions. “You recognize the critical role that labor plays in our society,” Merkley said, noting the role played by union members in passing social security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. He warned that “powerful and privileged forces are now trying to undermine workers’ rights and workers’ pay,” he said. Merkley expressed concern about Trump’s trade wars, saying it could slow down the economy by 3-4 percent and reduce work on the waterfront.

“Our country is at a crossroads,” he said. “Will we continue to provide a foundation built by workers and the labor movement, or do we allow the powerful and privileged to stack the deck and rig the system against working Americans?”

Local 13 President Mark Mendoza was asked to say a few words by Mitre. He spoke about the registration of new longshore workers in Southern California, criticizing employers for how long it takes “causals” to become registered longshore workers. “The average age of newly registered workers was 43 years old,” Mendoza said. He also spoke about Local 13’s political action efforts, explaining they have been very active and are trying to use the Local’s influence to help ILWU members and other workers. He closed by thanking pensioners for their work: “I appreciate what you have done to make my life better.”

PCPA President’s report

Mitre began his President’s report by recapping the ILWU General Convention held this past June, and noting the coming change in ILWU leadership.

“For the first time in many years, we will have three new Titled Officers,” said Mitre, highlighting a few of the important resolutions passed at the ILWU convention, including one allowing Panama Canal Division members to vote in the recent ILWU International elections. He also called attention to a resolution passed by ILWU’s Longshore Caucus which approved a $100,000 donation to create a fellowship at the University of Washington in honor of Local 19 member, Frank Jenkins Jr. (see September 2018 issue of the Dispatcher).

Mitre said the ILWU has been fortunate in recent years because cargo has been flowing freely and trade is booming. He reported that the ports of LA and Long Beach will move more containers this year than since 2007 on the eve of the Great Recession. One reason, he said, for today’s high cargo volumes is the effort to avoid the new trade tariffs being levied by the Trump Administration. “We’re at a crossroads in global trade,” Mitre said. “Right now the administration has put tariffs on about 25 percent of goods flowing through LA and Long Beach, but they’re proposing to hit 50 percent of goods in the next round.”

Mitre said that if these tariffs go into effect, it might impact cargo from Canada to San Diego. “I’m not just talking containers, I’m talking about apples, forestry products, automobiles, all break bulk, steel—everything that we touch, coming in and going out, will be effected.”

Mitre said pensioners should be helping active members by tackling the tariff issue – which is best done by voting themselves and getting other to vote in the midterms. “We need a Congress willing to be a check on Trump’s disastrous trade policies,” he said. Mitre also noted the unfortunate decline in the number of members who participate in union meetings. Like the tariff issue, he said pensioners can play a helpful role by educating active members and casuals about the need to participate in democratic union\ meeting – especially the need to reach members who don’t come from union backgrounds. “It’s a big problem, but we’re in a position to help with that problem,” he said.


Labor Day march

Mitre reported that this year’s Labor Day celebration in Wilmington, CA., was a huge success with over 6,000 people – making it the largest parade on the West Coast. The Southern California Pensioners Group sponsored a pre-parade breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausages and burritos at the Longshoremen’s Memorial Hall. They served 2,000 people, with Mitre making a point that “Some of the people we served were ILWU members, some were not. Some were union members, and some were not. But we opened our doors to the entire community.” He said everyone was also welcome at the huge picnic that followed the march.

Vice President’s Report

Calling-out greed: PCPA Vice President and longtime Local 10 leader Lawrence
Thibeaux criticized the practice of taking double shifts instead of sharing the work.

PCPA Vice President Lawrence Thibeaux spoke about this year’s Bloody Thursday celebration held at the Longshoremen’s Memorial Hall in San Francisco. His talk covered the history and meaning behind  Bloody Thursday – including the ultimate sacrifices made in 1934 by seven waterfront strikers killed in Wilmington, San Francisco, Seattle, and Hong Kong. “What makes our union strong is the strength of the rank-and-file,” Thibeaux said.

He went on to criticize what he sees as a growing problem of greed among some ILWU workers who are eroding union solidarity. Thibeaux singled-out the practice of “doubling” in which a worker takes two shifts instead of sharing the work with follow union sisters and brothers. “The hiring hall was created to equalize work and end abuse – and both were fundamental principles of the 1934 strike,” he said.

PCPA Poet Laureate Jerry Brady

The convention’s second day started with a poem from Southern California pensioner Jerry Brady, the official Poet Laureate of the PCPA. The poem, “Lest We Forget” was an homage to longshore workers and the hard work required of them on the waterfront.

ILWU Hawaii Pensioner Clayton Dela Cruz

The first speaker of the morning was ILWU Local 142 pensioner Clayton Dela Cruz who serves as Director of the ILWU Memorial Association in Hawaii and Secretary-Treasurer of the Kekaha Sugar Pensioners Club. Dela Cruz spoke about the history, structure and funding of the pensioner

clubs in Hawaii. He said the ILWU pensioner programs go back 60 years in Hawaii, with the ILWU Memorial Association helping to fund 20 pensioner clubs statewide. The groups gather every two years and have held 29 bi-annual conferences to date in Hawaii. “We rotate our meetings among the islands with funding help from the Memorial Association,” said Dela Cruz, who noted that some of the clubs are connected to county senior programs which allow the groups to use county resources for meeting sites and activities.

Like their counterparts on the mainland, club meetings in Hawaii feature topical speakers, social activities, excursions, participation in picket lines and political action including voter mobilization, education, phone banking and other “Get Out The Vote” efforts. Hawaii pensioners’ clubs are also affiliated with Hawaii’s Alliance of Retired Americans, a network of retired of union members that enables them to work together for a stronger political voice.

Benefits Specialist & ADRP reps
ILWU Coast Benefits Specialist John Castanho joined with Benefit Plan Area Directors and coordinators for the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Program (ADRP) to provide delegates with news from each program. Also present were representatives from the ILWU/ PMA Benefit Plans Office (BPO). These experts gave short presentations and made themselves available to answer questions and provide updates about health and pension plans.

Pensioners were reminded to update the Benefits Plan Office whenever they move or switch bank accounts to prevent any delays in getting checks or disrupting direct deposits. The Puget Sound Area Director Andrea Stevenson also encouraged pensioners to get their paperwork in order for illness and end of life concerns – including a will, power of attorney and advance care directive – and submit copies to the Benefits Plans Office so they can have those documents on file and easily accessible. She said having that paperwork at the BPO makes it much easier on family members in case someone becomes incapacitated.

The Convention bid farewell to Tyler Gorton, Area Welfare Director for the Columbia River and Oregon Coast Area, who is retiring in October. They welcomed Martha Hendricks who will serve as the new Area Welfare Director for that region.

ILWU Canada Report

Tom Dufresne, former President of ILWU Canada and current President of the Canadian Pensioners Club, gave a brief report about their activities during the past year. He said pensioners had successfully replaced a plaque commemorating the 1945 explosion aboard the S.S. Green Hill Park in Vancouver harbor that killed two seamen and six longshore workers. The original plaque had been removed and lost during a recent construction project.

Dufresne also spoke about their annual ceremony honoring the Battle of Ballantyne Pier, site of a famous dockworkers strike in Vancouver, BC, in June 1935. Dufresne said that shortly before this year’s ceremony, the monument commissioned by the ILWU to commemorate the strike was vandalized with a sledge hammer. He said the resulting publicity about the attack sparked interest from a local arts group to write a play about the Battle of Ballantyne that will be performed in 2019. “This act of vandalism has made a new generation aware of our history,” Dufresne said.

He closed by explaining that pensioners have been working with other retirees and community groups to tackle issues including homelessness and better access to healthcare and dental coverage for all Canadians.

Oral History Committee

The convention heard a report presented by Connor Casey, Director of the University of Washington’s Labor Archives, who was joined by and ILWU historians Harvey Schwartz and Ron Magden. The trio serve on the PCPA’s Oral History Committee. Casey spoke about the ongoing efforts to preserve records and provide access to the history of West Coast longshore workers and the ILWU. The effort is made possible with support from the University of Washington, the ILWU, the Coast Longshore Division and PCPA.

Magden and Schwartz spoke about the Oral History Committee’s work to record life and work histories of ILWU pensioners. The project began in 2013 and has collected over 40 videotaped interviews. The interviews cover a diverse range of locals, regions, and occupations from a racially diverse group made up of male and female ILWU members.

Casey said that 21 of the interviews have been transcribed and are currently available online, with an additional 13 available soon. These oral histories can be accessed at: tinyurl.com/law-pcpa.

Long Term Care Committee

The Tuesday afternoon session was devoted to extensive presentations on 401(k) management and retirement planning along with a report by the Long Term Care Committee. The Committee has been researching options for a Long Term Health Care Insurance benefit. Long term health care insurance would help cover the costs of care for chronic medical conditions or disabilities that many seniors face in their later years. The committee is chaired by Bay Area Pensioner George Romero and has been meeting weekly via conference calls. The group has researched options for a Long Term Health Care benefit and worked closely with insurance experts and consultants to address this difficult problem. The information will be shared with the Coast Pension and Welfare Committee.

Resolutions

The convention passed several resolutions including a proposal requesting a change to Article XXII of the ILWU Constitution that would require materials using the ILWU logo to be made or printed by union labor. Another resolution requested the ILWU International Executive Board to develop a policy based on the Election Rules of the ILWU Constitution to prohibit anyone from conducting union business on social media. This resolution, if acted on by the International Executive Board, could be considered by delegates to the 2021 Convention.

Another resolution recommended that the ILWU study ways to increase attendance at membership meetings and provide educational materials to implement the recommendations. Delegated also acted on a motion for the PCPA to fund a pensioner from Panama to attend next year’s PCPA Convention.

Finally, the convention adopted a proposal calling for the creation of a PCPA Education Committee to help bridge efforts by the International and local union to educate members about union history, parliamentary procedures, how to participate in union meetings.

“We feel a need to educate both members and the casual workforce,” said Mitre. “It’s difficult for locals to educate casuals because they are not registered workers or union members. It’s much easier for the pensioners because we are not part of the active workforce,” said Mitre.

Election of Officers

The PCPA held their election of officers for the coming year, choosing Greg Mitre to continue as PCPA President, Lawrence Thibeaux as Vice President and Christine Gordon as Treasurer. Yolanda Nuhi was elected as Recording Secretary. Nuhi replaced Kenzie Mullen, who announced she was stepping down – and being thanked by Convention delegates for her service.

Stranahan Award winner: Barbara Lewis is the first woman to be recognized for “going above and beyond the call of duty” in her efforts to help PCPA members. She chaired this year’s Host Committee and was honored at the PCPA
banquet in memory of Jesse and Louis Stranahan.

Stranahan Award

This year’s awards banquet saw the Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award presented to Barbara Lewis who chaired this year’s Host Committee. The Stranahan Award is given to an individual who represents the values of the ILWU and goes beyond the call of duty. Lewis is the first woman to receive the award.

Next year’s PCPA Convention will be held in Vancouver, B.C. in September of 2019.

Categories: K1. Business Unions

Support for former ILWU International President Dave Arian

ILWU - Wed, 09/05/2018 - 10:50
Support for former ILWU International President
Dave Arian

 

Categories: K1. Business Unions

Longshore Division and Local 19 donate $200,000 to Frank Jenkins Jr. Fellowship at UW

ILWU - Fri, 08/31/2018 - 17:46

Honoring Frank Jenkins Jr: The Coast Longshore Division and Local 19 are helping to preserve the legacy of ILWU leader Frank Jenkins Jr. with an endowed fellowship at the University of Washington’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.

On August 10th at an event held at ILWU Local 19 in Seattle, Coast Committeeman Cam Williams on behalf of the Coast Committee and the Longshore Division, presented a $100,000 check to the University of Washington’s Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies to establish a new $250,000 endowment named in honor of Local 19 member and Seattle CivilRights leader, Frank Jenkins, Jr. The donation to the Frank Jenkins Jr. Fellowship was unanimously approved by the Coast Long- shore Division Caucus this past June. The membership of Local 19 approved the initial $100,000 for the Jenkins Fellowship at a membership meeting in February of this year.

Williams noted the many contributions made by Jenkins to the labor movement, the struggle for Civil Rights and his impact on shaping work on the Seattle waterfront.

ILWU leader Frank Jenkins Jr

“This fellowship will allow the legacy of Brother Jenkins to live on,” Williams said. “I didn’t have the plea- sure of knowing him but I know he did a lot of really great work, not only by being able to strengthen the ILWU with his leadership in the union but also his dedication to the Civil Rights movement. We are honored to be a part of helping to preserve the legacy of Frank Jenkins Jr.”

Local 19 President Rich Austin, Jr. praised the generosity of Local 19 members, the Longshore Division and the hard work of the Seattle Pensioners. “There are times as an officer when you have the opportunity to be inspired by your union and this whole process has been one of those moments,” Austin said. “The generosity of the membership of Local 19 has been amazing—700 members

and we came up with $100,000. And at the Caucus, the resolution passed unanimously. I’d like to thank the Seattle Pensioners and Local 19 representative Herald Ugles for their work on the committee that crafted this proposal. The way they brought this forward to the Local 19 member- ship and to the Caucus was a big part of the success of this effort.”

Williams read a letter from ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.

Coast Committeeman Cameron Williams

“On behalf of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Coast Longshore Division, please accept a donation of $100,000 to the Frank Jenkins Memorial Fund. It has been our pleasure to work with you over the years and we are thrilled to donate to an honorable cause in memory of Frank Jenkins,” McEllrath said.

Michael McCann, Director of the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies and Professor of political science at the University of Washington was at the event to accept the check on behalf of the University of Washington and the Bridges Center.

“Once again, the generosity of the labor community has been overwhelming,” McCann said. “Jenkins put his heart and soul into a union that dramatically changed social norms by placing men of all different ethnicities and races side by side in the workforce. An endowed fellowship in his name will recognize emerging leaders follow- ing in Frank’s footsteps.”

McCann read a statement from University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce.

“It is my honor to thank the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 19 for the establishment of a new fellowship in memory of Seattle civil rights and labor leader Frank Jenkins. Housed within the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the fellowship will honor Jenkins’ legacy through annual financial awards to students at the University of Washington who have dedicated their education to the pursuance of labor and civil rights,” the statement said.

Local 19 President Rich Austin Jr.

Jenkins was the grandson of an escaped slave. His father, Frank Sr., served in the US Army and was a Buffalo soldier of the 25th Infantry Regiment stationed in the Philippines where he met and married his wife Rufina. Jenkins was born in 1903 and began working on the waterfront in the 1920s. He was a veteran of the 1934 strike and emerged as an early leader in the union. He held official positions within the union starting in 1936 until his retirement in 1967.

Jenkins was known for his extensive knowledge of the longshore con- tract which he acquired serving on the Joint Port Labor Relations Committee for more than 30 years. He worked alongside Martin Jugum for many years. One of their most notable contributions of Jugum and Jenkins was instituting a rotation system that allowed for everyone to receive an equal amount of work. This replaced the system of steadymen that Jenkins believed was a self-defeat- ing system of favoritism that denied fair opportunities to Black workers and ran counter to the democratic principles of the ILWU.

Pensioners Ian Kennedy (left) and Robert Duggan were two of the members of the fellowship committee.

Jenkins ran afoul of the US Government during the prosecution of Harry Bridges in the 1950s. Jenkins testified on behalf of Bridges during his deportation trial and in retaliation, the government accused Jenkins of being a member of the Communist Party. The US Coast Guard then revoked his pass which he needed to access “strategic” areas of the waterfront, depriving him of the ability to work. Jenkins appealed the decision and ultimately prevailed.

“A fellowship in Frank’s name will honor him and memorialize his contribution to the Seattle waterfront,” friend and pensioner Robert Duggan said. “Frank started on the waterfront at a time when longshore workers were considered unskilled labor and easily replaced. At the time of his retirement in 1967, he had led the establishment of practices and procedures resulting in longshore workers being highly skilled and highly paid. He had the foresight to see how cranes and containers would change the industry and the nature of the work.”

The Harry Bridges Center anticipates soliciting applications for the Jenkins Fellowship in the spring, with the first annual fellowship awarded in fall of 2019.

Categories: K1. Business Unions

My last column: Hanging my hook after 50 years

ILWU - Fri, 08/31/2018 - 16:52

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath

For many years, I’ve shared my thoughts in these President’s Columns, but this one has been the most difficult. 

By the time you read these words, I’ll be making two big changes in my life; preparing to step down as your President and retiring from the union that I’ve loved for fifty years. The time is right for both these decisions, but that hasn’t made it any easier.

I can honestly say that serving our union has been the most rewarding and challenging experience in my life – aside from meeting my wife Sally and raising our family together.  I often think about our union as another kind of family, and I know many of you feel the same way – especially when it comes time to think about retirement and leaving behind many of the people and places where we’ve worked, often over many decades.

But soon I’ll be a pensioner where I’ll ease into my new role and go back to “basic Bob” as a pensioner – with fewer meetings, less responsibility and a lot more time for my family and grandchildren. 

So in the few weeks left while I’m still serving as your President, I’ll share a few final thoughts about what lies ahead for all of us.

Let’s begin with a question that some have asked:  why am I stepping down now as President?  That question was answered by our ILWU Constitution that requires anyone who reaches the age of 65 cannot run for international office. The ILWU is one of the few unions with this kind requirement, and I think it’s a good one. Our union is different.  We aren’t scared by new leadership with fresh ideas to keep up with the changing times – especially when all unions – especially the ILWU – are fighting anti-union campaigns in a hostile world.

Our newly-elected ILWU leaders will be voted on and sworn in when all the rank-and-file ballots are tallied. We’re also one of the few unions that elect our officers this way, directly from the membership, with each member getting an equal voice and vote. This is important because it prevents our union from becoming a bureaucratic organization, a problem that has plagued other unions.

Whoever the rank-and-file chooses, they will be facing some tough challenges.  It is essential that we all get behind the new leadership because if they fail we all fail. Here are some issues that the new team will have to tackle:

Automation on the docks and warehouses.  It started with clerk technology and then automation in LA and Long Beach, and it’s likely to spread in the years ahead.  We’ve learned a few things, including the fact that employers are reluctant to make these huge investments on their own.  They want and expect public subsidies to reduce their risk and ensure their profit. This gives us an opportunity to shape the debate around automation – by taking an independent view and looking into alternatives, such as electric dock equipment with zero emissions that could still be driven by ILWU members.  We may also want to look at apprenticeship and training programs to protect our jurisdiction and prevent employers from claiming that we aren’t qualified for certain jobs. Warehouse and production jobs are also being automated, so learning from the experience at Rite Aid’s Distribution Center in Lancaster and other locations is important. 

Opposition in the courts and NLRB.  Employers are now using government and the courts to attack unions in ways that we haven’t seen for a century. The recent Janus ruling for unionized public employees is a great example of the hostile environment we are up against. The number of strikes has fallen to a new low and the National Labor Relations Board is now being stacked with anti-union officials.  The same thing is happening to our federal courts, from the Supreme Court down to local District Courts, where record numbers of new justices who oppose unions and worker rights are being appointed.  This makes it more difficult for us to get a fair hearing and easier for employers to use the courts and Labor Board against us.

Despite obstacles, organizing new members remains essential.  Workers all around us continue to ask for our help with organizing so they can become part of the labor movement.  Young people and immigrants seem especially excited about organizing, along with everyone else who sees the economy being rigged against them in favor of corporate America and the richest one-percent.  We have to find ways to assist and welcome these new members into our union. Failing to do so will cause us to decline over time, both in terms of numbers and power.

Finding ways to make political action easier and more natural for ILWU members isn’t something I like to talk about, because I don’t care for politics and politicians, but I do know that both are important, for better or worse.  Somehow – and I’m not sure how – we must do a better job of talking with our members about how politics and politicians impact our jobs and our families.  Too many members aren’t registering or aren’t voting – and if we do – many are casting ballots for anti-union politicians.  It’s not clear how to turn this around, but the problem won’t get better by ignoring it.

That’s enough from me about what may lie ahead.  Our new leadership will have their hands full, and will be free to set their own priorities to help us move forward. Nonetheless, the ILWU will always live by its founding principles and continue the fight to protect our jobs, pensions, and welfare benefits.

The time has finally come after fifty years in this great union and 12 years as your President and 21 years total as an officer of the ILWU, to say goodbye and thank everyone for contributing to our union in so many ways. 

I’ll begin by thanking the Pensioners who came before us, sacrificed so much and paved the way for us to follow in their footsteps.  May we continue to honor their example and pass it along to future generations.

To the thousands of workers and family members who stuck together during strikes and lockouts in the recent decades, including longshore workers in Alaska, Canada, the Pacific Coast, and Hawaii, grain workers in the Northwest, Panama Canal pilots, families in Boron, recycling workers in the East Bay, Clerical workers, IBU members, hotel workers, and all the rest: I thank you.  Together, all of you endured times of hardship with your families and made sacrifices for the sake of solidarity, stronger contracts with better wages and working conditions.

To the newest members of our union, who organized and won despite pressure from anti-union employers, attorneys and consultants who thought you’d fold under their pressure:  Thank you for proving them wrong.

To the youngest members of our union who are trying to make your own way and contributions to our union: Thank you for seeking guidance from our pensioners as you inspire us with your energy, passion and solidarity. 

To the overwhelming majority of rank-and-file members, who remain committed to the idea that we are all better and stronger when we stand together, despite our many differences: Thank you for standing by the union through thick and thin.

To all the Auxiliary members, who continue volunteering in ways large and small, day in and day out:  Thank you for all your contributions to serve this union.

To the staff and officers who work for us in all the different locals, affiliates, and divisions of this union, including the Alcoholism and Drug Recovery Programs, Health and Welfare Programs, the Benefit Plans office, the office of Leonard Carder, and all of the support staff:  I thank you all for your service to our union.

And to all of you who have supported me throughout the years, I thank you.

Finally, I’d like to thank my family for their endless patience and support, along with my deepest gratitude to every ILWU member – both present and departed – for allowing me the honor of serving you and this great union.  Thank you and goodbye.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Categories: K1. Business Unions

Social Security Privatization is a disaster in Chile; Anti-union politicians and Wall St. still want it here

ILWU - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 11:57
More than 20 years ago, The Dispatcher warned that an experiment imposed by a bloody dictatorship would fail. We were right, and the Chilean people are angry.

Editor’s note: The following article looks at Chile’s disastrous experiment with privatizing their once-public Social Security system. The conversion from public to private was encouraged by Milton Friedman, an economist at the University of Chicago who despised labor unions, minimum wages, Medicare and Social Security.

The possibility that something similar could happen here is real. President Trump’s Economic Advisor, Larry Kudlow, says he supports privatization, as does House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ryan’s likely replacements. The same people also support privatizing Medicare, the nation’s public, non-profit, single-payer health insurance system for older Americans.

After winning the election, President Trump first pushed massive tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich. Then he appointed an anti-union justice to the Supreme Court, and is now nominating a second anti-union justice. In Congress, anti-union members are using the budget deficit they created with the tax cuts to justify reductions and changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

When the mid-term elections are over this November, expect more calls from anti-union politicians to cut and convert Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid into private, profit-making insurance schemes. Wall Street likes privatization because it would generate billions in fees and give them access to massive capital for lucrative investments here and overseas. Privatization would leave retirees responsible for losses in a stock market that experts say is hopelessly rigged against small investors. Understanding what happened in Chile can help us avoid making the same mistake here.

 

Mobilizing for a better future: Citizens in Chile are fighting a failed retirement system that was privatized by the military dictatorship who ruled their country – with U.S. backing – from 1973-1990.

When I last wrote for The Dispatcher from Chile in 1996, the private pension companies (known as AFP’s) who ran Chile’s system of individual pension accounts were already unpopular. Independent economists and union leaders warned then that the system would eventually fail.

The privatized social security system was imposed on Chile in the early 1980s by the brutal, U.S.-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. After thousands of murders, widespread torture, imprisonment and repression of once- powerful unions, the country became a laboratory for imposing extreme free market ideas generated by University of Chicago Economist, Milton Freedman. A group of Chilean economists who worshipped Friedman were known as “the Chicago Boys,” and they oversaw the sell-off of public-owned companies, deregulation of business and privatization of education, healthcare and Social Security. Chile’s public programs dated back to the 1920s and included a comprehensive national healthcare system.

A conservative, young Chilean economist who hated unions, José Piñera, was appointed Minister of Labor. He imposed a new labor code that destroyed the power of unions to stand up for workers and instituted a system of private retirement accounts, financed solely by mandatory 10 percent contributions from workers, and no contributions required from employers. New workers were required to open a private AFP account when they were hired. Existing workers with Social Security accounts were pressured to switch to the private AFP accounts – saving employers two thirds of the cost they had been paying to fund the Social Security accounts.

A one-sided propaganda campaign funded by Piñera’s Ministry of Labor and private investment firms eventually made everyone switch. By 1996, Piñera was co-chairing a well-funded Cato Institute project that lobbied for privatizing Social Security in the U.S. The U.S. media often reported Piñera’s claims uncritically, including his assertions that Chilean workers were becoming “the owners of Chile,” and would be “rich in retirement.”

Conservative Republicans in Congress, along with some corporate Democrats, used Piñera’s unfounded claims to attack Social Security and Medicare, which they regarded as dangerous “socialist” programs. When the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush as president in 2001, the privatizers had a champion in the White House. But unlike Chile, resistance from U.S. unions and allies was able to stop the plan to privatize Social Security and Medicare – at least for the time being.

While I was visiting Chile earlier this year in April, my cab driver, Mauricio Sanhueza, told me, “Things have gotten a lot worse since you were here in 1996.” He added, “José Piñera is hated everywhere in Chile.” Piñera had promised Chilean workers that the AFP system would provide 70 percent of their salary when they retired, but this “replacement rate” is now in the 30-35 percent range, says financial advisor Alvaro Gallegos, who served briefly as Superintendent of Pensions under a recent democratically-elected government.  “In another decade,” he adds, it will be down to 15 percent.”

During this year’s trip, I asked many people, but had trouble finding any working person who believed that they will be able to retire with dignity under the private system. They know that the AFPs are ripping-them-off with high fees and confusing rules designed to keep pension payouts as low as possible.

Hector Manuel, 75, was working as a hospital orderly and expected a good retirement under Social Security. “I was told that I had to switch” and he “retired” in 2005, but now has to keep working as a cleaner at another hospital. “The more I think about it, the more anxious I get, but I will never be able to stop working.”

Seamstress Sonia Garcia, puts it in even glummer terms: “I will have to work until I die. I just hope I can save enough to pay for my coffin.”

The Wall Street financial collapse of 2008 brought crisis to Chile as well. The value of private accounts dropped 30-35 percent and set the stage for a massive reform movement. A group of unions stepped-up to create an organization called No Mas AFP in 2013, and grassroots organizing began throughout Chile.

“Our second major mobilization, in 2016, had two million people marching in cities throughout Chile, the largest march in our history,” says Luis Mesina, President of the Confederation of Bank Workers and a top leader of the movement.

Two million Chileans marching in their nation of 18 million would be the equivalent of almost 40 million people protesting in the U.S. Last year, No Mas AFP ran a nationwide referendum supervised by two universities that ensured that each registered voter could only vote once, “We had 8,500 volunteers who helped conduct the referendum throughout Chile; union members, seniors, students and even some conservative people,” adds Mesina. “The results showed that 1.74 million of Chile’s 3 million registered voters participated, and that 96.7 percent of them opposed the AFPs.

But that doesn’t mean that fundamental change will come easily. Dozens of people interviewed for this article had the same response when I asked them if they remembered Piñera promise that workers would become the owners of Chile. Each of them told me, “It is the AFPs that have become the owners of Chile.”

The six AFPs—three of which are totally or partially owned by U.S. companies like Met Life and Prudential—control assets equal to about 70 percent of Chile’s Gross Domestic Product. They wield enormous political and economic power that holds influence over politicians – and administrations – whether they lean left or right. The system has been tweaked with various regulations and even contributions of government money to top off investment accounts for those with meager retirement savings.

“But nothing has changed fundamentally,” adds Mesina “and the people of Chile will have to build great political power to overcome a very entrenched system.” Leaders like Mesina understand that it is hard for a movement to sustain a high level of intensity, and a period of more quiet grassroots organizing is now underway. “Our greatest advantage is that pensions keep getting worse,” he notes.

Despite this reality, the Cato Institute insists that Chile’s system has been a great success and many politicians like Vice President Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan still favor privatizing Social Security in the United States.

It turns out that General Pinochet himself worried the AFPs would grow too powerful, and that the system of privatized pensions would eventually fail to deliver on promises made by their promoters. That’s why he insisted on exempting military and police forces – who are among the few that remain in the nation’s once robust public Social Security system. He may have been bloody dictator, murderer and torturer, but he wasn’t a fool.

Fred J. Solowey has written several previous articles for The Dispatcher and is now a retired editor and communications director for various unions. He is a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981.

Categories: K1. Business Unions

Showing solidarity for animal care workers in San Francisco

ILWU - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:43

Community leaders supported animal care workers on April 12. Workers at VCA/SFVS recently joined the ILWU. The company refuses to meet more than once a month for first contract talks.

A large group of clients, community leaders, pet owners and union members came out on April 12 to show their support for a successful organizing effort by nearly 100 workers at the Bay Area’s largest animal hospital.

The event took place on the sidewalk in front of the San Francisco Veterinary Specialists (SFVS), the Mission District animal care facility that provides critical services such as cardiology and chemotherapy for Bay Area pets. Workers at SFVS voted nearly 3 to 1 in April to form a union and join the ILWU. In the weeks leading up to the vote, workers had to endure an anti-union campaign orchestrated by management that continues to this day as negotiations for a first contract are underway to secure better pay, real benefits, improved training and better retention.

“Improving conditions here will have a direct impact on the animals we care for and people who love them,” said Brianna-Lynn De Libertis, an experienced Medical Liaison at the facility who also serves on her new union’s Community Action Team. “The turnout and diversity of support we saw on July 12 was inspiring,” she said, citing the participation of so many different community leaders, including two who had a special impact.

The first was Sandra Mack, a SFVS client who brought along her dog – and a pile of pet bills from SFVS. Mack had heard about vet workers organizing at SFVS from her colleagues at the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) where she is President of the group’s Education Fund. The statewide network represents thousands of senior activists in California, including many in the Bay Area. Mack spoke confidently and was unwavering in support for the SFVS employees, their desire to improve care for animals and improve the value to pet owners who pay the bills.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen also attended as the elected representative for the Mission District where SFVS is located. Ronen is a dynamic political leader who is in the neighborhood, Bay Area and larger political world. Ronen arrived at the event carrying a letter that she wanted to personally deliver to VCA/Mars management. She said the letter called on the corporation to start respecting worker efforts to improve conditions – and cooperate with the new union. She also said Mars/VCA should stop stalling and start negotiating seriously – noting they had only agreed to one negotiating session per month in an effort to frustrate workers. She concluded her talk by asking a group of employees to accompany her as she entered the building to personally deliver the letter to management.

A variety of union members attended, including members of ILWU Local 6 and 10, the Indlandboatmen’s Union, plus Rudy Gonzalez, Executive Director of San Francisco’s Labor Council, the body representing 150 different unions with 100,000 members who work in the City.

Another special guest who received a round of applause for attending was Fred Pecker, longtime former Secretary-Treasurer of Local 6 who is undergoing chemotherapy. His attendance on July 12 was warmly received because he has participated in so many worker organizing efforts over many decades.

“I’m glad to be able to make it down to the event,” he said. “The energy and determination of these young people is inspiring and gives me hope for the future and our movement for social justice.”

Categories: K1. Business Unions

ILWU members help tenants fight evictions and build power in Tacoma

ILWU - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 10:07

Elderly and disabled tenants are among those being helped from organizing efforts supported by Local 23’s Young Worker’s Committee.

When I arrived for my first meeting of the Tiki Tenants Organizing Committee in Tacoma this past April, a group of 50 people were already gathering in the outdoor courtyard and sitting in a circle of mismatched chairs.

I didn’t see anyone I knew, but was quickly approached by an elderly African-American man who saw my ILWU shirt, greeted me with a smile, and introduced himself.

“My father was a member of ILWU local 10 and I remember running around the union hall in San Francisco when I was a little boy,” he said. After growing up, Julius Rance, Sr. told me he had done a stint in the Army, then worked as a “tank-haul” truck driver until retiring. I wanted to learn more, but our conversation was cut short by a woman who introduced herself as an organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington State. She asked everyone to quickly find empty seats and pull-in close together.

The meeting started with introductions and some encouraging words about showing each other respect when we spoke. This was the first time this group of people had met together, and I soon discovered why many were anxious while I listened and took notes about the stories that I heard.

  • An elderly man who just had back surgery was given 26 days to pack and move.
  • A blind woman in a wheelchair said she was scared and not afraid to cry about it.
  • A single mom who’d gone to trade school and joined the Roofers Union in search of a stable job to overcome past debts and get back on her feet, could soon be homeless.
  • Another person said they had just paid their rent before getting an eviction notice.

It turned out that tenants in 58 units of the Tiki Apartment complex were being evicted; half of them got notices on April 4th with orders to be out in 26 days and the rest had to be gone in May. They discovered that their building building had been quietly sold to a Seattle-based developer called CWD investments back in November.

The owner of the investment company explained his strategy to a business publication in 2016: “…buy apartments that need fixing up, rehab them and raise rents.” A new property manager, Allied Residential, had taped eviction notices to every Tiki tenant’s door, triggering calls for help and organizing. This first tenants meeting was held two weeks after the eviction notices appeared on April 19, so the clock was ticking.

Organizing muscle

Our first task was to help one of the tenants pack up their belongings and move, which was a difficult job made easier, thanks to volunteers from ILWU local 22 & 23 who are involved with 23’s Young Workers Committee.

That same weekend we conceptualized and formed the Tiki Tenants Organizing Committee. We made “Housing Justice” buttons, created branding, developed messaging and generated social media pages. We canvassed the apartments and had one-on-one conversations with tenants.

Mobilizing strategy

On April 24th, we helped mobilize more than 30 tenants to attend the Tacoma City Council meeting. When the tenants got up and went to the podium to speak out, they shook the building with their powerful stories that were raw and emotional. Mayor Victoria Woodards scheduled an emergency meeting just two days later and instructed city staff to draft an emergency ordinance that would delay the Tiki evictions, secure funds and get help from city agencies to support the tenants.

Important partial victory

On April 26th, the tenants and supporters made history when the city announced an agreement had been negotiated with CWD Investments to reset the eviction clock. The new date would now be June 30th. Tacoma also passed an emergency ordinance, effective May 14th, that temporarily changed the law for all renters who faced “no cause” evictions. Landlords were now required to give 90-day eviction notices. This emergency ordinance will “sunset” or expire, in September.

“No cause” = no rights and no justice

A “no cause eviction” is just like getting fired at work for no good reason, which is how almost every American workplace operates unless a union contract requires “just cause” (a good reason) and “due process” (requiring employers to follow the rules and respect job rights) before anyone can be fired. Some cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, passed laws 30 years ago that require landlords to have “just cause” before they can evict tenants.

Just cause evictions usually requires tenants to repeatedly fail to pay rent or intentionally damage property or make life miserable for fellow tenants. Even with those allegations, a “just cause” eviction process generally includes rights for tenants to appeal and tell their side of the story to a judge. Some activists have suggested that unions could benefit by trying to pass similar “just cause” laws to protect employees at work from being fired at any time for any reason – or no reason, which is now the law unless a union contract says otherwise. Passing “just cause” protections for tenants and or workers would be a big step forward for America’s working class.

Tenants suffer, landlords profit

As things stand now, landlords and developers in Tacoma are evicting tenants whenever they want to remodel buildings, double rents and rake in profits.

This kind of displacement puts tremendous stress on tenants, who are likely to become homeless if they don’t quickly find an affordable apartment or move-in temporarily with friends or relatives – creating more stress for everyone involved. And renting a new apartment often requires paying the first and last month’s rent plus a damage deposit before you can move in.

That kind of money is hard to find for most working class families who have less than $1000 saved for emergencies and almost nothing saved for retirement.

Evictions also put enormous budgetary stress on government agencies and charities. Seattle and San Francisco each spend $200 million annually on homeless services, and both still fall short of what’s needed.

Speaking out: Tacomoa’s City Council is hearing from tenants who are organizing for justice.

ILWU supports new reforms

Between now and the sunset date of the emergency ordinance, the Tiki Tenants Organizing Committee is pushing Tacoma to pass a strong list of tenant protections and seeking to make the 90-day eviction law permanent.

We launched a letter writing campaign to demand that the City pass a strong, progressive “Tenants Bill of Rights” – including “just cause” eviction protection – and create a Tacoma Renters Commission. On June 12, we held another citizen’s forum where letters from tenants and concerned community members were personally delivered to City Council members.

Our support has made a difference, but rank-and-file tenants are in the front of this movement and leading it every step of the way. Powerful new voices and strong leaders are coming alive and being developed in this struggle. We can help with the organizing, but it’s been the demands from tenants themselves – along with their vision and passion – that has carried us this far.

With things finally stabilized at the Tiki, we began our own transition and started thinking about the need for more affordable housing and better tenant protections throughout Pierce County. But our time to reflect was limited because the next big eviction was taking place at the Hudson Court apartments in Parkland, WA. We tried to get ahead of the curve there by door knocking, developing tenant leaders and preparing for the next fight. While important and necessary, we also recognize the need to overturn state laws passed during the Reagan era that limit what local governments can do to protect renters. These same kind of restrictions were also passed in California by lobbyists for the real-estate industry and apartment owners. This November, California voters will get a chance to overturn those restrictions through a statewide ballot measure that would\ allow local rent control ordinances.

Building a community coalition

While thinking about bigger strategies is important, we try to stay grounded by showing up to help tenants pack up and move when they’re forced out. The project keeps us in touch with Tacoma’s working class, and it helps unite our diverse membership at Local 23 (A, B and Casual members), along with volunteers from Local 22, members of IATSE 15, IBEW 46, AFSCME Council 28 representing Washington State Employees, Indivisible Tacoma, South Sound Democratic Socialists of America, Associated Ministries, students from the University of Puget Sound, and many other organizations that are helping with this work.

Organizing is organizing

Whether we’re facing a landlord or a boss, organizing is the only practical way for people to solve problems that are too big for individual solutions.

Labor unions have organized to win safer working conditions, health care benefits, living wages and dignity in retirement. They also allow us to shore up jurisdiction and maintain supply chain power. Most of us who have experienced the power of collective action on the job – including the withholding of our labor – know how powerful collective action can be.

Likewise, when we fight for housing justice, we can’t just complain or ask government to throw money at the problem and expect things to change.

Tenants have to organize in order to win affordable housing, pass rent control, enact “just cause” eviction laws, and end housing discrimination. Until we organize, big landlords and developers will continue winning with their money and power. Organizing can also help us take a deeper look into the root causes of housing injustice – including our economic system that forces so many to live on the margins while a handful at the top enjoy enormous wealth. The system isn’t fair and balanced: 54% of Tacomans are paying rent. We estimate that roughly 114,000 Tacoma residents would benefit from better housing laws and tenant protections that the Tiki Tenant Organizing Committee is fighting for.

Good strategy for unions

This housing issue can put unions front and center in these community struggles and help build power for workers beyond the jobsite. There are almost 50,000 union members connected through the Pierce County Central Labor Council. If we can mobilize that power, we’d have the mass base for a powerful movement – which is precisely where our unions need to be in times like these. Politicians seem to be feeling the public concern about affordable housing, as is the news media. This could be one of those rare occasions when elected officials, the media, community and civic leaders are all willing to support our struggle against displacement and mass evictions that destabilize our school districts, our neighborhoods, our local governments and our workplaces. We hope more unions will join this fight to help working class tenants organize for power and make positive change in our communities.

Brian Skiffington is a member of Local 23 and active in their Young Workers Committee.

Categories: K1. Business Unions

Tragedy in Longview

ILWU - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 11:57
Ship’s parted line snaps back in Longview, ending two lives and impacting many more

ILWU Roots: Byron Jacobs, seen here in blue, was a fifth-generation member of Local 21. He marched in support of KEX workers in November 2017 along with his step-father, Local 92 member Billy Roberts, brother Michael of Local 21, son Phoenix on his shoulders, and mother Jill of Local 21.

At the peak of summer on the Columbia River, a ship’s mooring line snapped without warning in the middle of the night, killing two men on the job and injuring two others.

Our brothers who tragically lost their lives were Local 21 Longshore worker Byron “Jake” Jacobs, 34, of Longview, Washington, and Chief Mate Pingshan Li, 41, of China. Jacobs was a fifth-generation ILWU member and a respected activist in Local 21.

The incident happened when ILWU members were working the ANSAC Splendor at the Port of Longview on June 28, moving the ship along the dock at Berth 5 to secure it for loading.

At approximately 1:30 am, as the ship was being moved into position, the mooring line that connected the vessel to the dock parted, snapping back at a speed of about 750 feet per second. Without warning or time to respond, the line recoiled in two parts, whipping one half toward the dock and the other half toward the ship.

On the dock, the line struck three ILWU members. On the ship, the line struck Chief Mate Pingshan Li. Sadly, the force of the impact killed Jacobs at the scene. Li was transported to Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, where he died later that evening. A Local 21 Longshore worker and Local 28 security guard suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Jacobs leaves his wife, Megan, and their three children: Harlow, age 8; Phoenix age 5, and Monroe, age 1. Li leaves behind his wife and their 13-year-old child.

Families and friends say goodbye

Less than 24 hours after the incident, approximately 200 people gathered next to the ship at Berth 5 to pay their respects during a candlelight vigil. Normally closed to the public, the port provided a podium and allowed Jacobs’ friends, family and fellow longshore workers to gather for two hours at the site. Li’s wife reportedly flew from China to escort her husband’s remains home.

Jacobs’ family and friends gathered again on July 6 at the Cowlitz County Events Center, where 500 people heard stories of his love for his family and his dedication to union.

His obituary read, “Byron was a devoted husband, father, son and brother who loved all of his family. He loved coaching his daughter in sports. Byron really enjoyed visiting and vacationing with his father and family in North Carolina, and learning about his Lumbee Indian heritage.”

At the July 12 Port of Longview Commission meeting, several commissioners spoke in favor of creating a permanent memorial, and Port CEO Norm Krehbiel recommended working with Local 21 to craft and site an appropriate tribute. After a moment of silence, Port Commissioner Jeff Wilson said, “We’re going to hurt for a very long time.”

EGT Activism

Jacobs was raised in an ILWU home, as his step-father, Billy Roberts, was a fourth-generation Longshore worker. Roberts had left the Longview area after high school to serve in the military, and returned home with his wife, Jill, and her two young sons, Byron and Michael.

Roberts joined Local 21 as a hardship as his new family settled in, and over the years, Jill and the boys came to work on the docks as well. After graduating from high school themselves, Byron and Michael Jacobs became fifth-generation members of the ILWU.

With his deep union roots, Jacobs stepped up in a big way when Export Grain Terminal (EGT) attempted to open a massive new grain elevator at the port without ILWU labor in 2011. He became an activist alongside hundreds of supporters in the Pacific Northwest and Coastwise in what became a painful fight to protect ILWU jurisdiction.

Byron Jacobs is survived by his wife, Megan, and their children: Harlow, 8, Phoenix, 5, and Monroe, 1.

Over the course of a year of protests, dozens of ILWU members, officers and supporters were arrested for standing up for the union – including Jacobs, on more than one occasion. Local 21 pensioner Michael “Kelly” Muller recalled an EGT protest at which he and Jacobs were maced, beaten and arrested by railroad police. The two Longshoremen had tried to protect members of the women’s auxiliary who were sitting peacefully on the railroad tracks leading to EGT when law enforcement started aggressively handling the women.

Associated Press photos of Muller and Jacobs being attacked by police in riot gear became a well-known image of the David versus Goliath battle. The union’s fight ultimately succeeded in securing ILWU jurisdiction at EGT, and Local 21 members have been manning the EGT grain terminal since 2012.

“I can tell you that there was no better fighter for the union than Byron,” Dan Coffman, who was Local 21 President at the time, told mourners at Jacobs’ service. Coffman also mourned Jacobs as the kid he had coached in baseball and who was his own son’s best friend. Current Local 21 President Jake Ford said, “Byron loved his union and his work and will be incredibly missed.”

Waterfront Dangers

The deaths of Jacobs and Li, and the multiple injuries, affected longshore workers in the community and beyond. In 2016, Longview suffered a loss when Local 92 Walking Boss Jim Meadows died while working at the Weyerhaeuser log export terminal.

Coastwise, it’s rare to meet a longtime Longshore worker who hasn’t had a workplace fatality or catastrophic injury hit close to home. The maritime industry has changed over the centuries, but Longshore workers and mariners have suffered from the threat of parted mooring lines since the dawn of shipping.

When synthetic lines part, they do so silently and at a speed which allows no time to prevent injury. Without proper use, maintenance and training, lines can pose a deadly threat. The June 28 incident remains under investigation by the Coast Guard, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, and the ILWU Coast Safety Committee.

Jacobs’ widow has filed a wrongful death suit against the ship owner and operators in the U.S. District Court in Portland.

“There’s not a single ILWU member who isn’t moved by the two families’ losses and the trauma suffered by the witnesses and survivors,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath. “This split-second snapback has changed the lives of four families and is a tragic reminder of the dangers we face on the docks.

“I remember Byron as a good man who worked hard for his family and his union,” said McEllrath. “We will continue fighting every day to make our jobs safer, because the most terrible news is when a parent doesn’t come home from work.”

A fund has been set up to support Jacobs’ family, and contributions may be made to the Byron Jacobs Memorial Account at Longshoreman’s Federal Credit Union in Longview.

Jacobs’ step-father, Billy Roberts, said, “On behalf of Byron’s family, I want to thank everybody in the union for their well wishes and support. I want to thank the ILWU for living up to its motto, ‘An Injury to One is an Injury to All.’”

ILWU Roots: Byron Jacobs, seen here in blue, was a fifth-generation member of Local 21. He marched in support of KEX workers in November 2017 along with his step-father, Local 92 member Billy Roberts, brother Michael of Local 21, son Phoenix on his shoulders, and mother Jill of Local 21. Byron Jacobs is survived by his wife, Megan, and their children: Harlow, 8, Phoenix, 5, and Monroe, 1.
Categories: K1. Business Unions