Longshore Union Strikes West Coast Ports

For Immediate ReleaseContact: Steve Getzug
 May 1st, 2008Phone: 213.219.8990

Longshore Union Strikes West Coast Ports

* Coordinated Work Action Violates Labor Contract, Arbitrator’s Rulings *


The International Longshore and Warehouse Union today struck West Coast ports from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, bringing cargo operations to a virtual standstill, as the Union’s leadership defied orders from the independent Coast Arbitrator to “notify its Locals and members of its contractual obligation and direct all members to report to work as they normally do during the day shift on May 1, 2008.”


This work-stoppage, illegal under the ILWU-Pacific Maritime Association contract, comes just two months prior to the expiration of the current labor agreement. PMA spokesman Steve Getzug said today’s actions raised the question of whether this was an attempt to leverage contract negotiations. He also expressed concerns that the ILWU might use slowdowns as a negotiating tactic, as they have in the past.


A year ago, in a press release announcing early contract talks, ILWU President Robert McEllrath said: “The ILWU is likewise committed to good faith negotiations and is hopeful that the parties can reach a conclusion to negotiations without transportation disruptions from either side.” Today’s action, Getzug said, raises concerns about whether those hopes will be fulfilled.


“Shutting down the ports in defiance of the contract and the arbitrator’s order in no way benefits an already-fragile U.S. economy,” Getzug said. “We have a lot of serious issues to resolve at the bargaining table, and the nation cannot afford uncertainty about the reliability of the West Coast ports.”


Today’s action, which essentially shut down all major ports along the coast, culminates a series of events that began when ILWU members passed a resolution opposing the U.S. war in Iraq. After seeking permission under contract rules to stop work during the day shift on May 1st, ILWU leaders later retracted their request, and claimed that any decision not to work on May 1st would be made by individual workers.


Yet the facts show a coordinated effort by the Union to shut down West Coast ports. The ILWU has publicized, through its website and newsletter, plans for a coordinated protest. The president of the coast’s largest longshore local yesterday sent a recorded message to members that stated: “I’m calling to let you know the entire longshore division will not work the day-side on Thursday, May 1st.” At other West Cost ports, ILWU officials reportedly told members not to work. The leadership has failed to do as it was instructed by the Coast Arbitrator: to inform members that May 1st is a regular work-day.


“We are severely disappointed that the Union leadership failed to keep its end of the bargain,” Getzug said. “The Coast Arbitrator – essentially the Supreme Court on the waterfront – has ordered the Union to treat today as a normal work-day, but the Union appears to have done the opposite.”


This action comes despite a series of arbitration rulings against the ILWU. The Coast Arbitrator, jointly appointed by the PMA and ILWU to resolve labor disputes, ruled yesterday: “There shall be no unilateral concerted job action or illegal work stoppage.” He further required the Union to instruct its members to work as normal.


The West Coast ports are a huge economic engine, supporting eight million U.S. jobs and accounting for 11 percent of the U.S. GDP. ILWU members are among the highest-paid blue-collar workers in the nation; average full-time wages for fully registered workers are $136,000. A rich benefits package, including pension and health care, costs more than $50,000 per worker. Nearly 15,000 registered longshore workers are employed at West Coast ports – an increase of more than 4,000 since 2002. 


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