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Bosses Delighted With Longshore Pact

Industrial Worker, January 2003

West Coast dockworkers are voting on a proposed contract as we go to press, following its endorsement by ILWU local union officials at a Dec. 12 meeting.

The six-year contract would boost pension and health benefits, and boost wages for the highest-paid workers. Many other workers would initially see no increase in wages, widening the gap between crane operators and foremen and those who work the holds and docks.

The contract also allows the elimination of hundreds of clerks, who track cargo entering and leaving the docks. Those clerks would be transferred to other jobs, and some computerized planning and tracking work would return to union jurisdiction. None of the thousands of "casuals" regularly working the docks for lower wages when registered dockworkers are unavailable would gain union membership or conditions.

Many rank-and-file ILWU members oppose surrendering the clerk jobs, the length of the contract, and its tendency to divide workers by widening wage differentials and establishing different working conditions and wages in some ports. They point out that the agreement was negotiated with a Taft-Hartley gun pointed at the union's head. National AFL-CIO officials played a key role in working with a federal mediator to push the deal through. "The culture of the ILWU will never be the same when it comes to bargaining," said AFL-CIO regional director Ron Judd. "They realize now there are forces out there they have to contend with. They can't be an isolated island in the greater sea of the labor movement anymore."

Many dockers resent that intervention. "The AFL-CIO is a tool of the politicians," said ILWU member Tim Milligan. "They believe as long as you have people under a union contract then they have won. ... Now we have started to go down that AFL-CIO path. Ninety percent of what unions have won in the past 120 years, unions have given back in the last 20 years."

Milligan suggested the union would have done better to turn to dock workers around the world for industrial solidarity when employers imposed the lock-out.

President Bush, however, welcomed the deal as "good for employers and ... good for America's economy." The Wall Street Journal also hailed the deal, in a Nov. 26 editorial titled "Taft-Hartley, Victorious." It asked readers to "give thanks for the Taft-Hartley Act ... [for] taking away the longshoremen union's bargaining chip . a stranglehold on the entire economy." The Journal went on to praise "the more moderate AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, Richard Trumka, [for] parachut[ing] into negotiations to take the Luddite longshoremen in hand."