ILWU leaves AFL-CIO

From the PAI Union News Service

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on Aug. 29 ended its affiliation with the AFL-CIO. The action comes less than year after the ILWU joined with five other unions to form the Maritime Labor Alliance.

The newly established Alliance includes the ILWU, the American Radio Association, Inlandboatmen’s Union, the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA), the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P), and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA).

MM&P President Don Marcus is president of the Alliance, and MEBA President Mike Jewell is secretary-treasurer.

In a letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka dated Aug. 29, 2013, ILWU President Robert McEllrath cited jurisdictional disputes as part of the reason for disaffiliating. McEllrath was particularly upset by the AFL-CIO’s decision to stay out of a conflict his union had with Operating Engineers at EGT grain terminal in Longview, Washington. But McEllrath also criticized the AFL-CIO for “overly compromising positions” on a path to legalizing immigrants, on letting the health care revision law tax high-value health insurance plans, and on allowing immigrant visas to benefit corporations.

The ILWU represents 50,000 workers on the docks and in other industries in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Panama. It has roots with the old Wobblies (International Workers of the World), and was an early affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In 1950, the ILWU and 10 other unions were kicked out of the CIO for allegedly being led by communists. It wasn’t until 1988 that the ILWU joined the merged AFL-CIO.

At a press conference on Sept. 8 — before the start of the quadrennial AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles —  Trumka called the ILWU’s disaffiliation a “tragic situation,” stating that he had no idea the ILWU was planning on exiting the AFL-CIO.

Later at the convention the ILA announced that it would remain with the AFL-CIO. ILA President Harold J. Daggett — noting that solidarity charters will not be offered to ILWU locals or any other union that departs — said his union valued its affiliations with state and local AFL-CIO councils and the protection they provided ILA members.

The following day, Daggett was elected to one of 55 seats on the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council.

“We are delighted that Harold Daggett now joins the AFL-CIO Executive Council,” said MM&P’s Marcus. “Our Maritime Labor Alliance is more important now than ever and Harold Daggett will provide the MLA with a strong voice to protect our maritime and labor interests.”

The  ILWU is currently in a contract dispute with the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers’ Association, which covers six grain terminals in Oregon and Washington. In February, foreign-owned United Grain locked out ILWU Local 4 members in Vancouver, and in May, foreign-owned Columbia Grain locked out ILWU Local 8 members in Portland. No bargaining is taking place at this time.

Contract talks for West Coast dockworkers begins next year. The existing agreement expires June 30.

McEllrath concluded his letter to Trumka with a short olive branch. He said ILWU is “committed to working in solidarity” with other unions, including the federation and its members “for advancement of workers’ rights and progressive causes.”


Editor’s Note:  Local union officers of the ILWU sit on the executive boards of the Oregon AFL-CIO, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, the Southwest Washington Central Labor Council, and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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