Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) elected the union’s first-ever black president, Willie Adams, in mail ballots cast beginning in August. Adams, ILWU’s longtime secretary-treasurer, outpolled longtime mainland vice president Ray Familathe 4,423 to 4,030. It was the first time since 1991 that the international union had a contested election for its top leadership position.
Adams succeeds “Big Bob” McEllrath. McEllrath has been president since 2006, but the ILWU Constitution bars members over 65 from running again. Adams is 61.
Election results were certified Oct. 29 after the union executive board voted 15 to 6 to uphold a report by its election committee rejecting challenges over how ballots were mailed to and collected from members in Panama. ILWU represents 3,000 dockworkers and pilots in Panama in addition to 35,000 dock and warehouse workers in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and Canada.
Adams grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He went to work as a longshoreman at the Port of Tacoma, Washington in 1978, and became a member of ILWU Local 23. Since 2003, he has served as international secretary-treasurer at the union’s San Francisco headquarters. He’s also served as a mayor-appointed member of the five-member San Francisco Port Commission since 2012, and is currently the commission’s vice president.
Also elected were: Bobby Olvera, Jr., mainland vice president; Wesley Furtado, Hawaii vice president; Ed Ferris, secretary-treasurer; and incumbent Coast Committee members Frank Ponce De Leon and Cam Williams.