The bitterness of the current West Coast longshoremen's lockout was vividly demonstrated on Tuesday, Oct. 1, when the two sides met in Oakland, Calif., to explore federally mediated bargaining. Representatives of the Pacific Maritime Association showed up at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office accompanied by two guards armed with pistols. International Longshore and Warehouse Union President James Spinosa, who said that both sides had previously agreed to bring only five negotiators apiece, was taken aback to see the entire negotiating team for the PMA with its security escort.
"Hiding behind the government and armed thugs, PMA's lockout is holding a gun to the head of the American economy," Spinosa declared angrily. "Now they move to aim real guns at us. We will not be intimidated." After the head of the FMCS, Peter Hurtgen, said he was aware of the PMA's plan to bring guards, Spinosa and the union delegates walked out. Hurtgen apparently was unaware the guards bore arms.
PMA head Joseph Miniace "was not aware that the security
detail had remained on the floor after escorting him to the place
where the meeting was set to occur," an association statement later
said. "The PMA made the decision several days ago to employ a
security detail for its lead negotiator. At that time, there was
good reason to believe that security was necessary. That position
has not changed."
The union has been reluctant to agree to federal mediation because high federal government officials intervened at the beginning
of the talks last spring on a new longshoremen's contract. In May,
Homeland Security director Tom Ridge, and later representatives of the
Department of Labor, told Spinosa that federal intervention would
follow any union strike or job action. Calling the prospect a threat
to national security, they said they'd consider invoking the
Taft-Hartley Act to send ILWU members back to work for 80 days --
and might also use troops to run the ports and bring the union under the
Railway Labor Act, making strikes virtually illegal and breaking up
its coastwise labor agreement.
Once the union was locked out, its negotiators reluctantly
agreed to explore federal mediation, at the request of the PMA. But
the employers appeared to torpedo their own suggestion by arriving
with an armed escort.
Tensions have been high since the PMA, representing shipping
and stevedoring companies up and down the West Coast, accused the
union of slowdowns and locked its members out of the harbor terminals
last Friday, initially for 36 hours. When the dockers reported on
Sunday, the gates remained locked in some terminals. In others, dockers
worked a few hours and then were told to go home.
The lockout followed a week of accusations by the PMA that
the union was engaged in a slowdown. Clarence Thomas,
secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 10, explained
that the amount of cargo crossing the docks was greater than ever
before, and even The Journal of Commerce noted
that container movement was 30 percent above normal. "Five people
have been killed on West Coast docks since the beginning of the
year," Thomas said, "and the accident rate is very high." He
attributed that to speedups on the docks, and the ILWU's negotiating
committee urged union members to work at a safe pace.
Miniace called this a slowdown. "I will not pay workers to
strike," he announced. "I will only pay them to work."
The unresolved issue at the heart of negotiations is the
introduction of technology that would replace many longshore clerks
with scanners and other equipment that can track cargo movement on
the docks without any paperwork. The union has agreed to the
introduction of this technology but says that union members should
do other work produced by the same technology. The PMA has agreed to
guarantee current clerks lifetime employment but refused to give the
union any jurisdiction over any new work created.
The PMA position is a reversal of a strategic agreement
forged by legendary longshoremen leader Harry Bridges in the 1960s, when
shipping and stevedoring companies brought in container cranes to
move cargo instead of the old hook and cargo net. Thousands of
longshoremen lost their jobs, but Bridges ensured that union
members would go to work in the cranes and at other jobs created by the
new work system. The union seeks to continue the basic tradeoff, and
says that if its members don't do the new jobs, their numbers will
shrink and they will lose any control over the work process.
"The PMA wants to control the docks," says Richard Mead, president of Local 10. "That's what it's all about for them."