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ILWU tallying ballots for union leadership

The votes are being counted in the first contested election in 18 years.

   The results of a just-concluded election for the senior leadership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) could be released in days.
   Members were mailed ballots on July 23 and counted Thursday. But the union was not commenting on the outcome before the tally is reviewed by the union’s balloting committee and election procedures committee. 
   Ray Familathe, vice president (mainland), and William Adams, secretary-treasurer, are vying to become president of the union in the first contested election in 18 years. One will replace Robert McEllrath, who is retiring after heading the union for 12 years and spending 21 years as an officer.
   Two sources told American Shipper that Adams had been elected, but one said the vote was close and could change on a recount.
   In addition to the presidency, union members voted for two vice presidents — one for the mainland and one for Hawaii — as well as secretary-treasurer and members of the union’s executive board, which currently has 21 members.
   The union’s website notes the ILWU has approximately 42,000 members in more than 60 locals in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska as well as 3,500 members of the Inlandboatman’s Union and 14,000 in the autonomous Canadian area. In addition to dockworkers, the ILWU represents warehousemen, chemical processing and packaging workers, clerical and retail workers, port police, hotel workers and ship pilots in San Pedro Bay and the Panama Canal.
   In his final column in the ILWU Dispatcher newspaper, McEllrath noted the ILWU Constitution says, “Anyone who reaches the age of 65 cannot run for international office.
   “The ILWU is one of the few unions with this kind of requirement, and I think it’s a good one. Our union is different. We aren’t scared by new leadership with fresh ideas to keep up with the changing times, especially when all unions — especially the ILWU — are fighting anti-union campaigns in a hostile world,” he said.
    In the article McEllrath highlighted several issues that new ILWU leaders will need to grapple with: automation on the docks and warehouses, opposition in the courts and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the need for organizing new members and “finding ways to make political action easier and more natural.”
   In recent years the highly automated Long Beach Container Terminal and TraPac terminal in Los Angeles have opened and McEllrath said automation is “likely to spread in the years ahead.”
   “We’ve learned a few things, including the fact that employers are reluctant to make these huge investments on their own. They want and expect public subsidies to reduce their risk and ensure their profit, he said.
   “This gives us an opportunity to shape the debate around automation — by taking an independent view and looking into alternatives, such as electric dock equipment with zero emissions that could still be driven by ILWU members. We may also want to look at apprenticeship and training programs to protect our jurisdiction and prevent employers from claiming that we aren’t qualified for certain jobs.”
   Warehouse and production jobs are also being automated. The ILWU organized workers at a Rite Aid distribution center in Lancaster in 2011 and McEllrath said learning from that experience was important to the union.
   McEllrath complained that “employers are now using government and the courts to attack unions in ways that we haven’t seen for a century,” pointing to the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which ended compelled union dues.
    “The number of strikes has fallen to a new low and the NLRB is now being stacked with anti-union officials. The same thing is happening to our federal courts, from the Supreme Court down to local district courts, where record numbers of new justices who oppose unions and worker rights are being appointed,” said McEllrath. “This makes it more difficult for us to get a fair hearing and easier for employers to use the courts and Labor Board against us.”
    He said the ILWU should continue efforts to organize workers: “Failing to do so will cause us to decline over time, both in terms of numbers and power.”
   While McEllrath told his members, “I don’t care for politics and politicians, but I do know that both are important, for better or worse. Somehow — and I’m not sure how — we must do a better job of talking with our members about how politics and politicians impact our jobs and our families. Too many members aren’t registering or aren’t voting — and if we do — many are casting ballots for anti-union politicians. It’s not clear how to turn this around, but the problem won’t get better by ignoring it.”

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.