Vote ‘No’ on the Tentative Contract! Send It Back! Mobilize for Membership Action!
This should have been contract negotiations that showed our union’s strength. Instead it showed weakness—a six-year contract below the rate of inflation and no COLA (cost of living adjustment). To make matters worse, even before the ink is dry another brother, Delmont Blakeney, gets killed on the job. Why? Because of the employers’ drive for profits and production first! They get billions in blood money at our expense.
When they reached agreement at the Big Table on the tentative contract, PMA [Pacific Maritime Association] stopped negotiating at the Safety Committee table, packed their bags and left with half of ILWU’s safety concerns not even addressed. (What’ll happen in local negotiations?) This is an insult to working longshoremen and especially to our members who have been injured and died on the waterfront in one of the most dangerous jobs, more dangerous than firefighters. Three have died on the Oakland waterfront this year, two at SSA [Stevedoring Services of America] alone.
The membership of the ILWU has always been proud of our union’s history of rank-and-file democracy and action, our coastwide contract and the hiring hall. This tentative agreement, if passed, will continue to undermine all of the above. Like with the last ‘02 Contract Caucus “gag rule”, the members received no information until the last minute. Now we’ll have a couple of days to get a copy, read it, digest it, discuss it with fellow workers and decide before the union meeting. If it passes, this will be the first time we’ve been shackled with two back-to-back six-year contracts and the first time the Caucus voted unanimously to ratify a tentative contract—both point us in the wrong direction.
Fight for a decent, safe coastwide contract
This proposed six-year contract doesn’t even keep up with inflation in a shaky economy. We need a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to protect against skyrocketing inflation. It is not prudent to lock us in for six years with no review provision. The proposed wage increase of $5 over 6 years, averages out at 2.5 percent-a-year when the real rate of inflation is 14 percent-a-year. The feds exclude the cost of food and fuel! This insulting “raise” is really a wage cut. It won’t even buy you a tank of gas a week.
• The wage gap between lashers, dockmen and tractor drivers will widen as employers pay Skill III workers more hours to speed up and violate the contract in other ways. Raise the wages and hours of holdmen, dockmen and tractor drivers to close the gap!
• Start time provisions will be weakened as PMA won’t pay Skill III operators for early starts at 7:30 a.m. Longshoremen will be forced to go in the gate early before start times.
• Crane operators don’t have to hatch tend, good. But now there will be basic paid “signalmen” not hatchtenders, leaving the key safety job on the dock to casuals or new longshore workers to run safe operations. The Pacific Coast Marine Safety Code designates hatchtenders as “safety men for the gang or unit”. What a sham of safety! This is an accident waiting to happen.
• We need crane gang manning. In L.A. they will have four men on the dock. Why not in Oakland since this is clearly a safety issue without a hatchtender?
Why doesn’t Local 10 get industry travel like every local on the Coast? Not just the $4 bridge fare, but travel time as well. All locals get paid to travel to work in L.A. but not Local 10.
In order to win a decent contract you need rank-and-file action. Over the years Local 10 has led the Coast in job actions around contract time, enforcing contract and safety rules. This time there was little or no action until Local 13 began taking unit breaks. Why? Because the union tops kept directing the ranks not to do anything, especially when the old contract expired and PMA was vulnerable to dock actions. When a contract expires and you keep working, then there are no agreed-upon work rules. It’s wide open for job action. Instead we got more top-down control, not even a strike authorization vote from the Caucus to back the negotiating committee, and a concessionary six-year proposal that weakens our coastwide union conditions.
For the last couple of contracts there has been more top-down control. With the influx of new members, new officers and negotiators, it’s important to remember that what makes ILWU strong, is not blind support to union tops, but rank-and-file democracy and action on the docks. Harry Bridges said, “I just thought that (union tops) favored this high-fallutin type of unionism that depended upon fancy negotiations and figuring on top and being good at figures and these are the things that produced contracts. The basic rank and file strength of the workers, which is what counts, is forgotten, see? And the workers are taught mistakenly that what produces good contracts is fancy negotiations....”
May Day West Coast Shutdown for Peace
There was heated discussion at the Caucus on ILWU’s May Day dock strike to stop the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was a real demonstration of our strength. After first denouncing it as an “illegal strike,” and bringing a suit against the union on those grounds before the NLRB, PMA had to drop their lawsuit against the ILWU. Some delegates tried to credit International President Bob McEllrath for this historic action. Actually the resolution came from Local 10 ranks and passed the Caucus overwhelmingly. The truth is, the union tops didn’t want this shutdown in the first place. A couple of delegates voted against it because they thought it would interfere with contract negotiations. By the Caucus vote, McEllrath was instructed to implement the coastwise shutdown. After asking that it be reduced to an eight-hour stop work meeting, he used PR to wrap it in the flag.
It was clear that San Francisco, Portland, Stockton and Seattle locals were going to shut down. In the face of PMA intransigence at the negotiating table, he had to make sure we showed unity in action on the Coast or there’d be no meaningful negotiations. Then we were told at our union meeting that the International didn’t want us to rally or march on May Day, causing confusion in the ranks. The rank and file in Portland, Seattle, Stockton and San Francisco did it anyway. And after the action was a success, we were told that to avoid lawsuits we should “deny” the union had anything to do with this historic action. Hogwash! We did it, we’re proud of it.
PMA said it was a bargaining tactic. Bull! It was an action to stop the war. But it did show the employers our strength. And now what do we get? A six-year concessionary contract! And after giving PMA early negotiations?! A decent contract is more than wages. It covers working conditions and benefits too. The only way to keep up with technology is to reduce the hours of work while maintaining the same wages. Local 10 submitted a resolution for four shifts of six hours with no loss in pay. It caught the attention of some delegates, was debated but lost in the end. The employers’ demand for a 10-hour shift, though it has some support in LA, was stopped at the Big Table.
No settlement until the safety negotiating issues are resolved, so we can begin to put a stop to the deaths and serious injuries on the docks. While we’re at it, we should demand a fair shake for the port truckers, who can barely pay for fuel for their rigs at the rate they’re getting now. If they could be organized into a union of their choice, then we’d really have power in the ports.
And what about MOB? We got maintenance of benefits (health care benefits and pensions) for active longshore workers, but what about our pensioners who helped build this union and give us the fruits we enjoy today? They’ll get a paltry pension increase of between $1-$4 a month per qualifying year of service. That won’t even keep up with past inflation. The surviving spouse of deceased Local 10 longshoreman Keith Glick made a dramatic appeal to longshore workers and clerks on the ILWU Internet discussion list. She explained that her ex-husband and other longshoremen who came before us got pensions and medical care for the union. She said she’d get a small pension increase while the cost of living is soaring. She pleaded, “Please don’t leave us as we get more elderly and need more, to have to beg in the streets.”
For oldtimers, for ourselves for our union’s sake, send this contract back to the negotiating table. PMA companies made billions. We deserve a decent contract with a full COLA not chump change.
Jack Heyman #8780