I’ve been reporting since September on the potentially catastrophic port strike in the works, and have been tracking the Occupy-supported and manufactured chaos at our ports for the past year.
Things are about to come to a head.
On the West Coast:
The Port of Portland (Oregon) is bracing for a strike by longshore workers on Nov. 25 “that would tie up millions of dollars worth of freight at three terminals.”
Representatives of the Port and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union say the strike could still be averted. But Port officials believe cargo ships may begin bypassing Portland because of the uncertainty created by the failure of last-ditch contract talks Friday.
Separately, owners of Northwest terminals handling a quarter of the nation’s grain exports said Friday they’d presented a final offer to the longshore union. Failure of those talks could lead to a strike or lockout at six grain terminals in Portland, Vancouver and the Puget Sound.
The simultaneous actions are the most extreme developments in months of labor turmoil at the Port, where yet another dispute involving the same union led ships to bypass Portland last summer, clogging cargo and slowing Oregon’s economy. Closure of the three Port terminals, let alone a crisis at the grain elevators, would wreak far greater economic havoc and could cause container shipping lines to pull out for good…
Coincidental breakdown of the security officer talks and the grain negotiations could close a total of seven Portland-area terminals, although the grain elevator owners plan to hire substitute workers — or scabs, in union parlance. In addition, last summer’s separate container terminal dispute is boiling over in the courtroom, as a federal judge ponders whether to find the union in contempt and stop it from allegedly coercing shipping lines.
Port of Portland managers won’t say whether they would bring in workers to replace striking security guards and their fellow longshore union members at terminals 2, 4 and 6. But Port officials are about to contact shipping lines with vessels heading toward Portland and warn them of the problems.
In Oakland, Calif., a strike is planned
next this Monday and Tuesday. SEIU is leading the way:
Port of Oakland workers who say they have gone 16 months without a new contract plan to go on strike Monday and Tuesday in Oakland. The Service Employees International Union Local 1021 has announced plans for a 24-hour strike starting at 9 p.m. Monday.
On the East Coast and Gulf Coast, companies are re-routing their shipments in anticipation of a long-threatened walkout.
Negotiators had been silent for the past few months, but the ILA is now flexing its muscle publicly:
Harold Daggett, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association, has broken weeks of silence during contract negotiations to complain that employers “want to grab more money away from the ILA and its members by placing a cap on container royalty.” The union also said its negotiators “would not budge” on their opposition to eliminating the 8-hour guarantee and overtime provisions during negotiations in September with U.S. Maritime Alliance (USMX)…
As I explained two months ago, an estimated 14,500 union workers at 14 ports are prepared to tip the economy back into recession over productivity and efficiency rules changes. ILA’s main beef is with container royalty caps to target port corruption:
In 2011 these royalties amounted to $232 million or about $15,500 per worker at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. This arrangement was established in 1960 when New York Longshoremen sought to protect themselves against job losses resulting from the introduction of automated cargo container weighing. It’s been a ticket for inefficiency. The USMX web site reads: “The initial reason for implementing container royalties…has long been forgotten. Today, thousands of workers who were not even born in 1960 – or in 1968 when container royalties were first distributed – continue to receive payments.” The employer group wants to cap royalty payments, not roll them back or eliminate them. ILA President Daggett is adamant about maintaining the system. His union is demanding that carriers pay all royalty fees. “I want a scale on every pier,” he said. Daggett also stated that if an ILA local discovers a shipping container exceeds highway weight limits, the union will insist that the trucks be prevented from leaving the port and that the containers should be emptied and reloaded into other containers. “If they want to play games,” he said, “we’ll play games.”
Even if the container royalty system were scrapped, there are still numerous work rules that hamper productivity and invite participation by organized criminals. A special report issued this past March by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to the governors and legislatures of New York and New Jersey shows how these rules have evolved from a deeply ingrained and corrupt patronage system. Based on extensive public hearings conducted during October 14-December 2, 2010, the commission concluded:
Certain hiring practices, achieved primarily through calculated provisions of collective bargaining agreements, illogical interpretations of other provisions, and claims of “customs and practice,” have created with the Port (of New York & New Jersey) no/low-work, no/low-show positions generally characterized by outsized salaries. The privileged few that are given these jobs are overwhelmingly connected to organized crime figures or union leadership.
Among abuses, the report cited policies forcing shipping companies to pay salaries exceeding $400,000 for jobs that “require little or no work.” In addition, dockworkers work in much bigger groups (or “gangs”) than needed. This explains why three dockworkers are paid to operate a crane that only one person can operate at a time. Even more absurd, work rules are structured so that workers can be paid for 24, even 27 hours of work in a given day, even if the actual work they do amounts to only eight hours and sometimes far less.
Think the Mafia no longer casts a shadow upon this union? Think again. The commission revealed the ILA has put a good number of relatives of organized crime figures on the payroll – and has rewarded them generously. The spirit of the late godfather of the Genovese crime family, Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, for one, lives here. One of Gigante’s nephews, Ralph Gigante, is a shop steward for an ILA local, which provides him with an annual income of at least $400,000. And two of Gigante’s sons-in-law, Joseph Colonna and Robert Fyfe Jr., serve as stewards in the same union. Colonna’s predecessor, John Bullaro, was the Chin’s brother-in-law. In all, the late Genovese boss has nine relatives working for the union.
The sum of these archaic rules, to say nothing of mob influence, says USMX’s Capo, has cost port operators billions of dollars.
As always, these strikes aren’t about protecting and improving workers’ lives. They are about protecting entrenched Big Labor power.
Live from Occupy Oakland: Window smashing, vandalism, and more; charter buses to port, Teamsters in the house; port shut down, trucks overrun; Update: Tear gas, riot police, fire, firecrackers at midnight Pacific time