May 1, 2008
Longshore workers' Iraq protest shuts down west coast ports
More than 25,000 longshore workers today brought cargo operations at 29 U.S. west coast ports to a virtual standstill. According to a statement from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), they were "exercising their First Amendment rights ... by taking a day off work and calling for an end to the war in Iraq."
"Longshore workers are standing-down on the job and standing up for America," said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath. "We're supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it's time to end the war in Iraq."
McEllrath says rank-and-file members made their own decision in early February when Longshore Caucus delegates voted to take action on May 1. Employers were notified of the plan, but refused to accommodate the union's request despite plenty of advance notice.
The employer group, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is described by the ILWU as consisting of "large carriers and port operators, most of which are foreign-owned."
"Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren't loyal or accountable to any country," said McEllrath. "For them it's all about making money. But longshore workers are different. We're loyal to America, and we won't stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed by a war that's bankrupting us to the tune of $3 trillion dollars. It's time to stand up, and we're doing our part today."
The PMA said that the union's leadership had defied orders from the independent Coast Arbitrator to "notify its Locals and members of its contractual obligation and direct all members to report to work as they normally do during the day shift on May 1, 2008."
The PMA called the work-stoppage illegal under the ILWU-PMA contract and noted it came just two months prior to the expiration of the current labor agreement.
PMA spokesman Steve Getzug said today's actions raised the question of whether this was an attempt to leverage contract negotiations. He also expressed concerns that the ILWU might use slowdowns as a negotiating tactic, as it has in the past.
"Shutting down the ports in defiance of the contract and the arbitrator's order in no way benefits an already-fragile U.S. economy," Getzug said. "We have a lot of serious issues to resolve at the bargaining table, and the nation cannot afford uncertainty about the reliability of the West Coast ports."
The PMA says that today's action, which essentially shut down all major ports along the coast, culminates a series of events that began when ILWU members passed a resolution opposing the U.S. war in Iraq. After seeking permission under contract rules to stop work during the day shift on May 1, ILWU leaders later retracted their request, and claimed that any decision not to work on May 1st would be made by individual workers.
Yet, says the PMA "the facts show a coordinated effort by the Union to shut down West Coast ports. The ILWU has publicized, through its website and newsletter, plans for a coordinated protest. The president of the coast's largest longshore local yesterday sent a recorded message to members that stated: 'I'm calling to let you know the entire longshore division will not work the day-side on Thursday, May 1.' At other West Cost ports, ILWU officials reportedly told members not to work. The leadership has failed to do as it was instructed by the Coast Arbitrator: to inform members that May 1 is a regular work-day."