ILWU shutters West Coast ports in May Day anti-war protest
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down West Coast ports Thursday in a May Day protest against the U.S. military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
'Longshore workers are standing down on the job and standing up for America,' ILWU International President Bob McEllrath said Thursday. 'We're supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it's time to end the war in Iraq.'
The union, which represents 25,000 workers at 29 West Coast ports from San Diego to Alaska, called the eight-hour walkout despite a Wednesday ruling by Coast Arbitrator John Kagel that a unilateral walkout by ILWU members would violate the union's contract with Pacific Maritime Association, which represents West Coast dock labor employers. Kagel, who operates as an independent arbitrating authority for the two parties, had previously ruled on April 24 that the union must inform its members that May 1 was a normal work day under the contract.
The PMA issued a statement Thursday morning calling the union action an illegal strike and suggested the move is a show of force attempting to influence ongoing West Coast contract negotiations that began in March.
'We are severely disappointed that the union leadership failed to keep its end of the bargain,' PMA spokesman Steve Getzug said Thursday. 'The Coast Arbitrator — essentially the Supreme Court on the waterfront — has ordered the union to treat today as a normal workday, but the union appears to have done the opposite.'
Shortly after the start of the normal day shift at 8 a.m., the Port of Oakland reported that all of its marine terminals were shuttered due to a lack of labor, though a spokesperson said only one vessel was scheduled to arrive during the day shift.
The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles reported similar situation, though some terminals were able to find longshore casual labor to keep some small operations going. The Marine Exchange of Southern California reported that there were 40 vessels in the Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor, with seven additional vessels expected to arrive by the end of Thursday and possibly be affected by the walkout.
The Port of San Diego also confirmed three terminals requiring labor gangs were shuttered Thursday. The ILWU warned the facilities Wednesday that the workers would not show up.
Terminals at Seattle and Tacoma also confirmed they did not have enough labor to continue operations.
Jack Heyman, a spokesman for the Bay Area International Longshore and Warehouse Union, told Fox News Thursday the union workers hoped to stop traffic at all the West Coast ports by their action.
'The longshoremen have decided they’re not working so everything is going to be idle on the coast,' Heyman said. 'We hope that sends a strong message to the White House and to Congress to bring this war to an end.'
A 10-day lockout of ILWU workers in 2002 is estimated to have cost the national economy about $1 billion a day. However, the major West Coast ports, including those in Southern California and the Bay Area, indicated the effect of the May Day walkout may be minimal as Thursday is often a slower day of the week and most shipping lines were either directly or indirectly forewarned about the walkout.
Word of the walkout had been circulating for more than a month, and despite the initial arbitration ruling in favor of the employers on April 24, the PMA returned to the arbitrator this week after ILWU members at various West Coast ports began informing supervisors that they would be skipping the May 1 day shift.
The union, which initially supported the walkout but backed off the official support after the PMA declined to allow the stoppage, has said that if individual workers do not show up it is a voluntary decision on their part.
'The decision by members to take a day off work on May 1 to protest the war is their right under the U.S. Constitution, and it’s about time that citizens stood up to tell the truth about the need to end the war,' union spokesman Craig Merrilees told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The PMA's Getzug said the union was 'saying one thing and doing another' and giving tacit encouragement to workers to participate in the walkout, despite the arbitration ruling.
Southern California ILWU workers, according to the PMA, were called Wednesday with a recorded message from the local union president telling the workers to stay home.
'Staging a coordinated work action violates the waterfront labor contract and comes at a time when the union has pledged to not have any disruptions while a new contract is being negotiated,' Getzug told the AP. 'Any disruption at the ports works against the interests of millions of Americans whose jobs are directly or indirectly tied to the movement of cargo.'
Due to the arbitration ruling, the PMA could take disciplinary action against union members not showing up for the May Day shift, though the PMA has not said it would do so. ' Keith Higginbotham