Longshore workers support community effort to fight air pollution

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 took a stand to support residents of Vallejo, California opposed to the construction of the Vallejo Marine Terminal and an adjacent cement production facility.

Residents are concerned that the proposed facility will increase air pollution, create more health risks, and lower their quality of life.

The people who will be most affected are those living in South Vallejo, a working class community where the majority of residents are Latino and African American.

At a recent media conference, Local 10 President Edwin Ferris explained why the union is opposing the project.

“ILWU Local 10 supports the citizens of Vallejo in their opposition to the proposed Vallejo Marine Terminal project,” said Ferris. “It would be quite irresponsible to support this proposed project at the expense of the health of the environment and the local community.”

Local 10 was joined at the media conference by local residents and environmental groups that are urging the Vallejo city council to reject the project. The city’s planning commission has already recommended that the project be rejected.

Orcem, an Irish company whose parent company is active in the European market making and selling cement made from ground granulated blast furnace slag, has proposed building the Vallejo project.

The company wants to construct a new marine terminal on the site of an abandoned grain mill, and a cement processing facility next to the terminal.

The terminal would receive ships from Mexico and Asia containing blast furnace slag, a rock-like waste left over from the iron- and steel making process.

The slag would be unloaded at the terminal and directed to the cement processing facility where it would be milled into a fine powder, which would then be turned into what the company calls “green cement.”

Orcem calls its finished product “green cement” because its production leaves a much lower carbon footprint than the production of traditional Portland cement.

The only problem is that the milling process, which turns the slag into a powder used to make cement, emits nitric oxide into the air. When nitric oxide combines with oxygen, it forms nitrogen dioxide.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nitrogen dioxide contributes to air pollution and can cause respiratory problems like asthma and other health problems.

Children and the elderly are especially at risk from the effects of nitrogen dioxide.


An Environmental Impact Report by city staff found that the Vallejo terminal project posed other threats to the community.

If the terminal and cement processing facility were to begin operating, 300 trucks a day would travel through the neighborhoods close to the terminal, generating more air pollution, traffic congestion, and noise.

The terminal would also depress property values in neighborhoods near the terminal.

Orcem was hoping that its promise of a green manufacturing plant and the new jobs that it would create would rally local support for the project.

The company estimates that the 15-month long construction project to build the terminal and cement plant would create 240,000 hours of union related construction work, which led the local labor council to support the project.

But the company has been more circumspect in predicting how many permanent jobs would remain after the construction work is done.

The terminal and the cement processing facility, both of which would operate 24 hours and day, seven days a week, would be highly automated; therefore, once construction is over, there is little likelihood of many permanent jobs remaining.

According to Fresh Air Vallejo, the environmental group leading the opposition to the project, there is a marine terminal and cement processing facility similar to the Vallejo project operating in Camden, New Jersey.

Owned and operated by the St. Lawrence Cement Company, it employs only 15 workers.

In return for these 15 jobs, the city of Camden receives 100 tons of air pollutants a year generated by the facility.

“We want something better than a toxic, 24/7 cement factory that will bring in shiploads of industrial waste to Vallejo’s waterfront,” said Peter Brooks with Fresh Air Vallejo.


Oakland votes no on coal

The Oakland City Council on June 27 voted to ban coal from the city.

The 7-0 vote prohibits the transportation and handling of coal within the city limits.

The vote puts on hold a plan by private developers to export coal mined in Utah through a new shipping terminal being built in Oakland.

At the council meeting where the vote was taken, dozens of local residents spoke in favor of the proposed ban. One of the speakers was Derrick Muhammed, secretary treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10.

ILWU Local 10 and ILWU Local 34, both of whose members work at the Port of Oakland, last year voted to oppose the shipment of coal through Oakland.

In an open letter written before the city council meeting took place, Muhammed said that “the ILWU is pro-terminal and anti-coal.”

“Oakland residents already deal with highway emissions, asthma and other concerns,” wrote Muhammed. “The community doesn’t want or need nine million tons of coal added to their list of worries.”

Supporters of the coal project said that the health and environmental concerns were overblown and that the new coal export facility would create good paying jobs

Muhammed responded that workers and their families need both good health and good jobs.

“We urge you not buy into the false ‘health versus jobs’ dichotomy that the pro-coal side is perpetuating,” wrote Muhammed in his letter. “The simple fact is that we can – and must – have both.”

The plan to bring coal to Oakland originated with California Capital & Investment Group, a real estate investment company that is building the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on the site of the old Oakland Army Base, owned by the city.

When the construction of OBOT was first proposed, the developer promised that it would not be used to store and ship coal.

But last year California Capital and Terminal Logistics Systems, the company hired to manage OBOT, made a deal with the State of Utah to export Utah’s coal through OBOT.

The deal called for Utah to invest $53 million from its Community Investment Impact Fund in the construction of OBOT.

As soon as the deal became public, some local residents began to worry about its impact on the health and safety of the community.

One of the communities in Oakland that would be affected is West Oakland, a predominately African American neighborhood that already has a high rate of childhood asthma, cancer, and other pollution-related diseases.

“According to a national train company,” reports the Sierra Club, one of the first opponents of the deal,  “each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails.”

These concerns led the No Coal in Oakland coalition to begin organizing opposition to the deal.

The coalition sent a letter to Oakland  Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city council urging them to take action to stop the shipment of coal.

“Coal is bad for the climate, community and worker health, and the environment,” said the letter. “Oakland and California have standing policies opposing the export of dirty energy, including explicit opposition to coal export by both the city and the Port of Oakland.”

The letter was signed by a number of community organizations, neighborhood associations, and businesses as well as 18 union locals.

The Alameda County Labor Council, ILWU  Local 6, and ILWU Local 10 sent their own letters urging the mayor and city council to reject the shipment of coal through the city.

In response to the letters and other actions taken by No Coal in Oakland, the city commissioned a study to determine the impact that shipping coal would have on the city.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the report, prepared by ESA, an environmental consulting company, said that “fugitive coal dust can damage vital organs, cause cancer and stunt children’s growth.”

Subsequently, Mayor Schaaf proposed a city ordinance banning coal from Oakland.

As the city council prepared to debate the proposed ordinance, supporters of the deal, mailed flyers to residents claiming that the proposed ordinance would eliminate 6500 good paying union jobs.

During public testimony on the ordinance, Josie Camacho, leader of the Alameda County Labor Council, denounced the flyer as a lie.

In his open letter, Muhammed pointed out that other oversized and bulk terminals on the West Coast are thriving without shipping coal and that OBOT could do the same.

“Bulk shipping without coal is a lucrative business, as our 25,000 longshore brothers and sisters can attest, as they work in all West Coast ports from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California handling grain, gravel, potash, salt, steel, and many other bulk commodities,” wrote Muhammed. “If the developers keep looking for better cargoes to export, they will find them.”

The city council’s June 27 vote was a vote on the first reading of the “No Coal” ordinance. A second vote on the ordinance will be held on July 19.

Supporters of the deal to ship coal through Oakland have threatened to sue the city if the ordinance passes on the second vote.

ILWU leads fight to save Seattle waterfront jobs

The Seattle City Council in May rejected a proposal for building a new sports arena designed to attract a National Basketball Association team to the city.

The new arena was to be built in a section of the city known as South of Downtown, or SoDo.

Its construction would have required the closure and privatization of a one of the main public streets providing access to the Port of Seattle, where about 1000 longshore workers are employed.

The street closure would have clogged traffic leading to and from the port, which would have diverted cargo to other ports costing hundreds of longshore workers their jobs.

That prospect led International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 19 to oppose the project from its beginning.

“This fight was always about finding the best location for a new stadium – which never should have been in SoDo,” said John Persak, president of the ILWU’s Puget Sound District Council, who helped coordinate the fight.

Persak said that the union played a leading role in building a “diverse community” of opposition to the proposed new sports arena.

The fight began four years ago when Chris Hansen, a hedge fund owner, and a crop of local developers proposed building the Seattle Arena in SoDo.

Seattle had lost its NBA franchise, the Sonics, in 2008, and Hansen and his partners were hoping that a new state-of-the-art arena would attract another NBA team looking for a new home.

In 2011 they proposed to build a new arena in SoDo at a cost of $490 million, $200 million of which would be paid by the city.

The proposal also included a reconfiguration of the SoDo section where the new arena would be located.

In addition to the new arena, which would include a slew of luxury seating to accommodate Seattle’s swells, Hansen planned to build nearby upscale shops and restaurants, encouraging gentrification and changing the complexion of SoDo, an industrial area near the port.

In order to realize Hansen’s vision, Occidental Avenue, a main thoroughfare leading to the port, would have to be privatized so that it could be closed.

Closing Occidental would snarl traffic leading to Terminal 46 of the port delaying the movement of goods coming to and from the terminal.

The resulting delays would have diverted cargo to other ports, hurting Port of Seattle business and eliminating jobs.

Concerns about the impact on good-paying jobs led the leaders and members of ILWU Local 19 to take a stand against the proposal.

The union used its political influence and ties to the community to build community opposition to the proposal.

More than 100 ILWU members attended meetings and spoke at hearings on the project.

A key City Council vote on the arena project took place on May 2.

The vote was on whether to sell Occidental to Hansen and his partners.

In a 5-4 vote, the City Council voted not to sell.

City Council member Kshama Sawant voted against selling the street to Hansen.

“I do want to help bring back the Sonics, but I cannot do that on the basis of undermining our working waterfront and good-paying unionized industrial jobs,’’ said Sawant to the Seattle Times.

Sawant added that she wanted to stand in solidarity with ILWU members who had been leading the fight to maintain good-paying, unionized jobs.

The five council members who voted against selling the street to Hansen were all women.

Their stance drew a spate of misogynistic hate mail from basketball fans like this one from  Jason Feldman.

“As women, I understand that you spend a lot of your time trying to please others (mostly on your knees) but I can only hope that you each find ways to quickly and painfully end yourselves. Each of you should rot in hell for what you took from me yesterday.”

Feldman’s missive was a mild rebuke compared to other mail that the women received. Feldman later apologized for his letter.

Hansen was taken aback by the vote and said that he a his partners would regroup and look at their options for going forward.

ILWU’s Persak said that he was happy with vote, but warned that the fight to preserve good-paying union jobs wasn’t over.

“We’ll have to remain vigilant to make sure our support from the Council remains solid because the pressure from the political establishment to build in SoDo is enormous,” he said.

Farmworkers in Washington fight for a contract; urge boycott until they get one

It has been a contentious summer in the Sate of Washington’s Skagit Valley.

Farmworkers at the Sakuma Brothers berry farm have walked of the job three times to protest unfair production quotas that adversely affect their pay and safety and health conditions.

The strikes, which so far have lasted for short periods. are part of ongoing struggle for fair treatment and worker rights that began more than a decade ago.

The Sakuma Brothers farmworkers, mainly immigrants from southern Mexico, organized Familia Unidas por las Justicia (Families United for Justice) and are seeking to be recognized as a union by the company, a large industrial sized berry picking and processing operation.

Members of Familias Unidas are asking consumers to boycott berries picked at Sakuma, most of which are sold under the Driscoll’s brand.

Familias Unidas is also asking consumers to boycott Haagen-Dazs ice cream products which also use berries from Sakuma Brothers.

In a recent development, Familias Justicia reports that Sakuma Brothers is now packaging berries under the Belmont brand.

Familias Unidas over the years has won pay increases and other concessions from Sakuma Brothers, one of the largest berry producers in the State of Washington, but the company has refused to bargain with the workers’ group for an enforceable collective bargaining agreement.

Last year, Sakuma Brothers agreed to pay $850,000 to settle wage theft suits initiated by Familias Unidas.

The suits claimed that Sakuma Brothers failed to pay workers for time worked and denied them breaks.

Sakuma acknowledged that it made payroll mistakes that led to workers being under paid, but maintains that the mistakes were unintentional.

Familias Unidas struggle for a fair contract has attracted support from organized labor in the Northwest.

Members from the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) and other unions joined a July 11 march in the Skagit Valley to support Familia Unidas.

The day before the march, members of Familias Unidas met with union leaders from California, Washington, and Mexico to discuss strategies for winning a collective bargaining agreement.

“This is an important campaign that crosses borders to unite the common concerns of workers,” said Rich Austin, president of ILWU’s Pacific Coast Pensioners Association. “It’s not an easy fight, but the important fights are never easy. Solidarity and unity are the best weapons we have to fight injustice and capitalist greed.”

The ILWU in June passed a resolution of support for Familias Unidas at its international convention.

“The ILWU calls upon other labor organizations and legislators and congressional delegations to support a boycott of Sakuma Brothers Farms, Haagen-Dazs, and Driscoll’s Berries until the demands of Familias Unidas Por La Justicia are met, reads the resolution.

Although work has resumed after the most recent strike, the fight for a fair contract is continuing.

Familias Unidas is holding a demonstration on August 9 at the Skagit Historical Museum, which is presenting a program called Back to Our Roots, an historical overview of agriculture in the Skagit Valley.

The exhibit ignores the role that farmworkers have played in the agricultural history of the valley.

In addition, Steve Sakuma, one of the Sakuma Brothers owners is scheduled to speak at the ceremony that kicks off the exhibit.

“This is insult to the Farmworkers to have an event that blatantly leaves out people who have gathered or produced food in Skagit Valley for generations and have contributed much to the history of Skagit Valley,” reads an internet post announcing the demonstration.

ILWU delegates recommend ratification of tentative agreement

ILWU caucus delegates voted on April 3 to recommend that union members ratify a tentative agreement that the union’s negotiating team and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) negotiated in February.

The agreement covers 20,000 longshore workers at 29 ports along the US West Coast.

Union members will now receive copies of the agreement and vote on it by mail. Voting will end May 22.

Seventy-eight percent of the caucus delegates voted to recommend ratification of the agreement.

“We secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, their families, and their communities,” said Robert McEllrath, ILWU international president. “Longshore men and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”

Negotiations that led to the tentative agreement lasted nine months, the longest negotiating period in the history of the ILWU.

During that time, PMA, which represents maritime and stevedore corporations doing business on the West Coast, accused longshore workers of engaging in a slowdown to give the union more bargaining leverage.

PMA in January retaliated for the alleged slowdown by enforcing a partial lockout at some of the busiest ports on the West Coast.

During the negotiations, especially toward the end, the delivery of cargo bound for the nation’s retailers was delayed significantly.

The delay had a big impact on the nation’s economy. A research and policy organization of merchants claims that by the end of the negotiation, the delays were costing the national economy $2 billion a day.

Another source said that the delays cost US retailers $3 billions in lost sales.

The delays led President Obama to send Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to the West Coast to monitor negotiations. After Perez spoke to both sides in the dispute, the union and PMA reached a tentative agreement.

Details about the agreement have not been made public, but the union provided some information on a few of the major issues that stalled negotiations.

One of the big stumbling blocks was PMA’s desire to cut longshore workers’ health care benefits.

That issue was resolved last summer when the two sides agreed to maintain the current health care benefit, which covers a wide range of health care services for workers, their families, and retirees at almost no cost to workers.

Another hurdle was the question of who would perform inspection and repair work on container chassis, the trailers that haul the large cargo containers.

Until last year, PMA represented employers owned the chassis, and union members inspected and repaired them as needed. But employers decided to outsource this work and sold their chassis to third-party contractors.

The sale created bottlenecks that contributed to delays in getting cargo delivered and made an already dangerous job less safe.

In January, the union and PMA agreed that ILWU members would inspect and repair the chassis before they leave the docks even though the third-party contractors will continue to own the chassis.

The last hurdle involved the arbitration process used to settle grievances. The union was concerned that some arbitrators were favoring employers in their arbitration decisions. Many of these decisions affect the health and safety of workers.

Loading and unloading large cargo containers is dangerous work, and this work will like get more dangerous as employers introduce more automation on the docks.

To protect worker safety, the union wanted to ensure that worker grievances get a fair hearing and pushed to replace some arbitrators who the union thought weren’t being objective.

The two sides compromised on this point by agreeing to replace arbitrators with three-person arbitration panels.

The tentative agreement also raises base pay and provides additional pay increases for workers with specialized skills.

The business press has called the tentative agreement a big win for the union and its members, but critics of the tentative agreement, some of whom are members and either current or former local leaders, are urging members to reject it.

According to those critical of the agreement, it doesn’t do enough to protect workers from job losses caused by automation, it gives bigger pay raises to those already earning higher wages, it doesn’t go far enough in protecting ILWU jurisdiction on chassis work, and it weakens an ILWU tradition of solidarity by making it more difficult for ILWU  members to refuse to cross picket lines.

Union leaders have refused to speculate whether members will ratify the tentative agreement, but whatever the outcome, there’s no guarantee that the new agreement will bring labor peace to the docks during the five-year life of the contract.

PMA represented employers will continue to probe for union weakness as they struggle to find new ways to reduce union power on the docks.

In the face of another lockout, longshore union members are urged to stay strong and united

As employers prepared to lock out West Coast longshore workers for the second time, ILWU International President Robert McEllrath accused the Pacific Maritime Association of spreading misinformation to divide union members and incite public resentment against the workers..

The ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a consortium of international shipping corporations, port terminal operators, and stevedore companies, have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that covers longshore work at West Coast ports in the US.

PMA has accused the union of conducting work slowdowns to gain leverage in the negotiations.

On Wednesday when the two sides were scheduled to resume negotiations, PMA announced that it would shut down West Coast port operations for four days–first on Thursday, February 12 and again on February 14 through February 16.

PMA’s aim appears to be using work stoppages to create dissatisfaction among rank and file union members in hopes that they will pressure union negotiators to accept a new collective bargaining agreement on PMA’s terms.

McEllrath said that staying strong and united was the key to winning a fair contract.

“Nobody divides the ILWU,” said McEllrath. “We’re going to win this fight; we’re going to win this battle, but there’s only one way to do it and that’s to stick together and stay strong and united.”

PMA previously locked out longshore workers on February 7 and February 8.

Before doing so PMA issued a statement blaming longshore workers for their own lockout.

In the statement PMA misrepresented longshore workers wages in order to suggest that they were overpaid. That misrepresentation led some media outlets to report that longshore workers make as much as $1100 a day.

Such reporting is ridiculous, but what is true is that longshore workers make good wages and have excellent benefits.

According to the ILWU, the hourly wage for longshore workers is between $26 and $41 dollars an hour. The union also says that while many longshore workers don’t work the entire 2000 hours that constitutes a normal work year, the typical pay for an experienced ILWU member is $83,000 a year.

The ILWU also points out that longshore work is dangerous and that longshore workers fatality rates are higher than those for police and firefighters.

The good wages enjoyed by longshore workers aren’t the result of employer generosity, as PMA would have the public believe; instead, they’re the result of 75 years of hard fought victories by ILWU members.

Before the ILWU was organized in 1934, longshore work was temporary, low-wage, and extremely dangerous. Work was controled by company agents who often demanded bribes in exchange for work.

It took a bloody ILWU strike in 1934 that closed West Coast ports to get employers to recognize the ILWU.

Among other things, the strike forced employers to accept a union demand that work be distributed fairly through a union operated hiring hall, which ended the corrupt hiring system favored by employers.

Over the years, ILWU members have succeeded in winning some control over the pace of work, improved job safety, and good pay and benefits. But it took many collective job actions to win these improvements.

The PMA in 2002 used a lockout in order to weaken the ILWU, but the tactic backfired when the lockout stopped the flow of imported goods and threatened to damage the national economy.

The lockout resulted in a return to work order issued by the federal government and pressure on the PMA to reach an agreement.

Embolden by increased corporate power over the last 13 years, PMA has dusted off the lockout and given it a new twist–this lockout is temporary and called randomly so that it doesn’t completely shut down port traffic but does affect the wages that workers take home.

But the temporary lockouts are starting to cause trouble for businesses in the imported goods supply chain.

“The PMA can only cut back on work so much before total gridlock results and then a total lockout could happen,” reports the Journal of Commerce (JOC).

If a total lockout does happen, it would trigger a return to work order like the one issued in 2002.

“West Coast ports would then face 80 days (the cooling off period required when such back to work orders are issued) of continued ILWU slowdowns, and at the end of the cooling-of period, nothing would have changed,” reports the JOC.

In the meantime, McEllrath said that union negotiators are prepared to bargain until a fair contract is achieved and said that he hopes PMA is ready to do the same.

He also criticized PMA for its divisive tactics and told ILWU members to stay strong and united and “don’t listen to PMA bullshit.”

PMA locks out West Coast longshore workers over the weekend

Work resumed at most West Coast ports on Monday, February 9 after the Pacific Maritime Association, an employers group of port terminal operators and shipping companies, closed the ports over the weekend in an attempt to gain leverage in the collective bargaining negotiations between PMA and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

The closures increased “delays for customers needing containers,” said the ILWU in a statement released Monday morning.  “The union remains focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as possible with employers.  Talks to resolve the few remaining issues between the Longshore Union and Pacific Maritime Association are ongoing.”

The Port of Portland remained closed after ILWU Local 8 called a one-day unfair labor practices strike on Monday, February 9 to protest the actions of ICTSI, which operates Portland’s Terminal 6. Local 8 was protesting what it describes as unfair disciplinary action taken by ICTSI against Local 8 members.

The weekend lockout of ILWU members could, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, cost the national economy as much as $4.2 billion.

The lockout appeared to be a form of punishment against ILWU members, who PMA alleges have been engaged in a coordinated slowdown of work on the docks during contract negotiations.

According to ILWU President Robert McEllrath, PMA’s lockout was an unnecessary interruption to the bargaining process that is close to completion.

“What the employers need to do is stay at the negotiating table and work through a few remaining issues with the workers who have made them successful for the past 80 years,” said McEllrath. “We are very close to reaching an agreement.”

PMA’s lockout was the second time that PMA has cancelled work to pressure the union into making contract concessions.

In January, PMA stopped unloading ships during the night shift at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles because, according to PMA, the docks had become too congested with shipping containers that had not been moved because of the alleged ILWU slowdown.

The ILWU recently produced aerial photographs of the docks where the second shift was shut down. The photos appear to show little if any congestion on the docks.

Because PMA cancelled night shift work, there are a number of ships waiting just outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to be offloaded.

“PMA is leaving ships at sea and claiming there’s no space on the docks, but there are acres of asphalt just waiting for the containers of those ships and hundreds of longshore workers ready to unload them,” said McEllrath. “The employers are deliberately worsening the existing congestion crisis to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table.”

PMA’s weekend port shutdown seemed ill-timed given the fact that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on one of the main issues that was preventing a successful conclusion to the contract negotiations.

The two sides announced at the end of January that they had reached a tentative agreement on who would handle the maintenance work on shipping container chassis, the trailers that transport shipping containers from the docks to warehouses.

Since shipping containers became the main means of storing goods shipped overseas, ILWU members have performed maintenance on the chassis.

Jurisdiction over that work came into dispute when the shipping companies that until recently owned the chassis sold them to third-party contractors.

The ILWU has maintained that chassis work belongs to ILWU members.

The sale of the chassis to third-party contractors appears to be one of the main reasons that there has been a delay in offloading of ships on the West Coast.

The third-party contractors have failed to keep the chassis in good repair and have been unable to provide an adequate number of chassis to transport goods.

The resolution of this issue led observers to believe that the path was clear for an agreement to be reached.

But PMA’s weekend lockout and some public statements made by PMA CEO James McKenna suggests that PMA may not be interested in reaching a fair agreement with the union.

Among other things, McKenna in his public statement suggested that ILWU members are overpaid and should be willing to accept the terms of new agreement dictated by the PMA.

“What the ILWU heard yesterday is a man (McKenna) who makes $1 million a year telling the working class that we have more than our share,” said McEllrath. “Intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining when we are just a few issues away from reaching an agreement is totally unnecessary and unproductive.”

Negotiations between the two sides was supposed to resume on Monday, February 9, but the bargaining session was postponed until Wednesday.