Vice President, Ship Clerks’ Association
ILWU Local 34
Local 34 represents marine clerks and office
clerical workers in the Northern California. We’re part of the Longshore
Union, the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union).
Before I get to what I do, let’s list the various types of
jobs on the docks. We’ll start with a walking boss. A walking boss, or a
foreman, assigns longshoremen to a piece of equipment, assigns them to their
gangs, and makes sure the men are properly performing their work. Management
deals with walking bosses, and the walking boss in turn deals with Longshore
people. Here in the Bay Area there are probably about 80 and 100 walking
bosses in Local 91.
There are about 2,000
Longshoremen in Local 10, and in Local 34, there are approximately 300
members. We receive and deliver cargo, containers, and other equipment on
the waterfront. We access all this information from computers. We control
the flow of cargo to and from the ship.
On the management side, there’s the PMA, which stands for the Pacific
Maritime Association. It’s a nonprofit organization that is comprised of
most of the shipping companies on the West Coast. PMA negotiates the
contract with the ILWU.
I joined up in ’88, transferring from another maritime
union. It took awhile. On my days off, working for a tugboat company, I used
to go down to the Longshore Hall. I had to wait a long time and work pretty
hard before I got in. Come to think of it, I’ve been working pretty hard
ever since, too.
People have some wrong ideas about
where we stand. In fact, the ILWU has a history of flexibility and
cooperation with management. Year’s back, when we saw the change coming from
break bulk cargo, where cargo is handled piece by piece, to containers, we
took the bull by the horns. We led the way making the West Coast the most
productive ports in the nation, even agreeing to downsize our own locals
along the way through modernization and mechanization, known to us as the
Now there’s technology. When I
started, everything was handwritten, the documents that confirmed the
arrival or the departure of the equipment or the cargo. There was
face-to-face interaction between us and the truckers picking up containers.
The employer has the right to introduce technology if the
technologies truly replace a worker’s job. What’s not OK is if they just
want to shift the job overseas or someplace without unions, or a cheaper
workforce like Salt Lake City, Houston, and other countries like Costa Rica
Since I started in 1988, I’ve lived through the introduction of computers to
the docks. Before, everything was either handwritten or face-to-face
interaction. We used to know the truck driver by name, you’d know who he was
working for. You’d actually have a rapport and a relationship with them.
So now interaction between the clerks and a trucker is
over a speakerphone with a camera and a video screen that may show written
or detailed directions on where to take the cargo. The employers overall
have generally not taken in consideration the various ethnicities of the
truck drivers, the difference and accents of their language.
So now the trucker is trying to be understood across a
speakerphone to someone maybe 500 yards away, or the clerk on the second
floor of an office building, and there’s no – you may not be able to connect
exactly what the individual wants because you don’t have that one-on-one
We want the employers to help this problem
by introducing touch screens or other technological improvements to help the
truck drivers. For security reasons alone, it’s important. But the employers
don’t want to spend the money, or maybe they want to drive a wedge between
the drivers and us. Which is really unfair, because we strongly identify
with the problems the drivers face.
used to be all Teamsters, but in the ‘70s and early ‘80s that all changed.
The shipping companies went to independent contractors so the status quo now
is that it’s almost all nonunion guys, low-income immigrant workers.
What we see is that the independent trucker has a dilemma,
and that is that he does not get paid by the hour. He gets paid by the load.
And our view is that the rates are extremely low. Below minimum wage at the
end of the day, by the time you take in insurance costs, fuel costs, repair
costs, traffic. They’re very underpaid. That doesn’t even include the cost
of medical benefits for their families
So frustration sets in, on our side and with the truckers. We want the
truckers to know we’re on their side and we’re setting up familiarization
meetings, on-the-job get-togethers to cut down on harassment, those types of
things. I would like to work together again like in the old days. The ILWU
is all about harmony with people working their way up in American society. I
mean, the ‘34 strike was won in large part because Harry Bridges created a
pact with the black churches of San Francisco.
We’re also big on the issue of traffic in the Bay Area. Trucks moving out of
the Ports in the Bay Area should go at night whenever possible to cut down
on traffic. We’re all for that, in fact, our contract calls for closing down
just five days of the year, Christmas, New Year’s, Labor Day, Thanksgiving,
and Bloody Thursday, which is July 5th. Otherwise, we’re ready to work 7
days a week, 24 hours a day.
The problem is places
like Wal Mart, one of the biggest destinations for cargo, won’t stay open
late to accept their deliveries due to the increased cost.
We’re 100% behind the idea of expanded ferry service.
It’ll increase our ranks, and will relieve traffic congestion. Our
affiliate, the Inland Boatmen’s Union has been in the lead on this since Day
Air pollution generated by ships and trucks, water pollution problems with
the residents of West Oakland, we also worry a lot about these things. We
aim to work more closely with environmentalists on these issues. We already
belong to a big dredging coalition, but we want to do even more.
And, of course, port security is on everyone’s mind, most of
all us; we’re working right there. We also want to protect our country.
We’re right there. We’re the front line.
ones that are helping to look for the dirty bombs. We want to make sure that
the cargo and containers are properly documented when it goes out on our
freeways. It’s not just terrorists, hazardous materials and big rig
accidents are a huge concern.
What’s actually changed on the docks since 9/11? We have
to provide identification to get access on the terminal. They control the
crewmembers from the ships more. But overall they pay more attention to the
workingman than to the cargo...
But as for dramatic
changes, I don’t see it, no. The interesting part about the inspections is
that our employers chose not to inspect containers at five terminals. Nobody
checks the cargo or empty containers coming in or going out at all. I can’t
think of any other reason than moneysaving…
The employer has done two things. They’ve eliminated the physical
interaction by removing the actual person who can look at that container
number, or he can check that seal, or he can open up the door and look in
that container to see if it’s empty.
motivation, which started way before 9/11, was to harness technology to
reduce manpower, because there’ll be an increasing profits. They’ve shifted
that work over to the use of cameras, but we know that on most terminals you
can’t view all four sides of the container. You can’t verify that it’s the
proper hazardous material placard on a 40-foot container. The camera can
only see a portion of it.
Our members are where the
rubber meets the road on port security. If our employers really want to make
things safer they should be talking to us. But that cuts into their profits
You may wonder about the bumper sticker I’m holding up which says, “Wal-Mart
sucks”. Now, Wal-Mart products make up a large percentage of the containers
that our guys move for a living. A huge amount. It’s my understanding that
Wal-Mart could own its own fleet of ships. But the only problem with it is
they would be full from the Far East and empty going back, so it’s not worth
it to them…
So you could say we’re biting the hand that feeds us. But our beef with
Wal-Mart is their treatment of workers, the low pay, and the overseas
Wal-Mart employees are very under-paid and they get lousy benefits. There
have been reports where they’re required to work overtime without pay just
to keep their jobs. We want all workers to get a good enough living wage
that they can live here in the Bay Area. And we walk our talk about it too.