Shippers lock out ILWU


The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) has imposed an indefinite lockout of West Coast dockworkers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

The lockout began Friday afternoon, Sept. 27, after negotiations broke down. Union members returned to work Sunday morning, Sept. 29, only to be locked out again that afternoon.

PMA is portraying its move as a response to a "work slowdown" that one management spokesperson characterized as a "strike with pay."

The ILWU represents about 10,500 dockworkers - approximately 1,350 from Portland to Astoria are represented by Locals 8, 40, 50 and Vancouver Local 4.

The ILWU said PMA walked out of negotiations Sept. 27 and imposed a cooling-off period/ lockout after its chief executive officer, Joseph Miniace, launched into a tirade, attacking the union as an institution and saying he doesn't want to deal with it anymore.

"Miniace showed the same disrespect for the union he has since the beginning of these talks," ILWU International President James Spinosa said. "He is unilaterally taking the action of closing all ports and bears full responsibility for its effects on the American economy."

The PMA implemented the lockout even though the union made expansive proposals for new computer technology the employers have been saying for three years was their top priority. But the PMA refuses to guarantee that the remaining jobs and all the new jobs created by the new technology will be ILWU jobs.

Instead, the PMA sought to portray its lockout as of the workers' own doing. The workers began strictly adhering to safety rules last week in response to increased accidents and deaths - five workers have died on the job in the past six months - as freight volume has actually increased dramatically during recent months, the union said.

In Portland, 30 members of Local 8 are currently idled because of job-related injuries and two members have been killed on the job in the last three years, said Union President Bruce Holte.

"PMA's slanderous allegations of slowdowns during the biggest speedup in ILWU history that coincides with a record number of on-the-job deaths is literally adding insult to injury and making any progress toward a contract more difficult," Spinosa said. "Still the ILWU is prepared to go back to the˜table and seek a negotiated settlement."

Picket lines have been established at all ILWU docks on the West Coast, including at the ports of Portland and Vancouver. In the Puget Sound, all trade unionists and community supporters are invited and encouraged to show solidarity with the locked-out workers by participating in picketing.

The lockout stopped import and export activity at 29 ports up and down the West Coast, which handle about $300 billion in shipping per year, or about half of all U.S. trade activity.

"It's like a parking lot out there," Holte said. "All they have to do is open the gates, and we're ready to go to work."

Despite the lockout, the ILWU is still working military cargo and passenger vessels. The union has reached agreements coastwise with cruise lines to work their ships. In Tacoma, ILWU is also working the TOTE vessels carrying cargo to Alaska.

President Bush could invoke the Taft-Hartley Act and order dockworkers to return to work for an 80-day cooling-off period. The Bush Administration also has threatened to replace dockworkers with military personnel - similar to what President Reagan did during the Air Traffic Controllers strike in 1982; or go to Congress to place the union under the Railway Labor Act, instead of the National Labor Relations Act, which covers longshore workers now. Under the RLA, the government can order an end to any strike, and impose a contract if the union doesn't agree.

ILWU's contract with the PMA expired July 1 and was extended for several weeks as the sides negotiated. Without a contract in place, management cannot bring arbitration cases against the union in the case of a work slowdown.


October 4, 2002 issue

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