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Unprecedented Sell-Out by Ugles & Co. in ILWU Local 19, Seattle

by Joe Dockerman Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007 at 6:16 AM

Five months before organized West Coast longshore workers are set to begin bargaining for a new contract with the employers association, union officers in one ILWU local are already starting to give away some key historic gains of waterfront workers

Seattle, Aug. 15 –In a stunning betrayal of the militant rank-and-file ideals upon which the ILWU was founded, Local 19's officers duped a tiny minority of the local's membership present at last Thursday's stop-work meeting into a sell-out of unparalleled proportions.

On August 9th, on behalf of the Port Labor Relations Committee, President Herald Ugles tabled a "Continuous Operation Document" between the local union and Stevedoring Services of America Terminals, which will eliminate unit breaks at Terminal 18 in the Port of Seattle. The motion to adopt the new work rules, in exchange for at most five more jobs on container operations—although the memorandum's language itself is so vague that even this slight gain in manning is not even for sure—was passed by a slim majority at the tiny and unrepresentative meeting.

The underhanded tactics used by the Ugles/Manwell/Ventoza regime to ensure the membership meeting would be tiny and then to blackmail those members who did show up into passing the give-back measure have been the subject of lively debate around the Seattle waterfront in the days since the August 9th meeting.

These new work rules will make it basically impossible for semi tractor drivers and other equipment operators on gangs to communicate with each other regarding safety code and contract violations and thereby keep them from working together to enforce their contract rights on the job.

Moreover, these new rules clearly violate the provisions of Section 2.3 of the Pacific Coast Longshore Contract Document, paving the way for a further erosion of the Coastwise master contract and raising the specter of port-by-port or company-by-company agreements, just in time for early Coastwise contract talks, set to begin early in 2008.

Waterfront rumors have it that SSA will begin implementing these new work rules today, Wednesday, August 15th.

To make matters even worse, had a single brave Local 19 member not called for the quorum and thereby shut down the stop-work meeting, the next thing on the agenda was to have been a Port LRC motion to install computer screens in the dispatch hall—an ominous step towards the electronic dispatching of longshoremen's work. This narrowly-averted motion would have represented a first step towards the total dismantling of the union hiring hall.

Unions around the world admire the ILWU for its democratic hiring hall and its tradition of effective job control, in which dispatchers are elected by the workers themselves, and which allows workers to pick their jobs on a daily basis. This system allows individual longshoremen a freedom which is unparalleled among other members of the American workforce. It has long been a dream of the West Coast maritime employers to do away with the hiring hall system that the ILWU won through militant strikes beginning in 1934.

This past year, our brothers and sisters of the ILWU Canada, the organized longshore workers in British Columbia ports, began contract negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, the Canadian subsidiary of the Pacific Maritime Association. The employers tabled a set of unheard-of demands, including continuous operations, port-by-port or company-by-company agreements, and electronic or phone dispatching of workers.

The members of ILWU Canada considered this set of employer contract demands to be a declaration of war, and vowed a fight to the death to preserve the historic gains of the ILWU which the employers had indicated their desire to eliminate.

An April resolution of the ILWU International Executive Board states the policy and the determination of the Union to support "ILWU Canada's struggle against the BCMEA's attempts to impose fundamental changes on Canada's West Coast waterfront that would alter basic conditions of production and employment.... Canadian waterfront workers have struggled for nearly a century for union rights, fair bargaining and safe conditions and these will not be abolished by the employer group's shortsighted pursuit of profits at the expense of workers' living standards."

It seems that the officers of Local 19 Seattle have decided to assist our mortal enemy, SSA, and the other PMA companies, in implementing their most perverse fantasies and realizing their wildest hopes five months before Coastwise longshore bargaining is even set to begin. The passage of these new work rules giving away our union coffee breaks—a violation of the Coast agreement on its face—by a tiny minority of Local 19's membership, puts into question the level of basic union democracy that still exists in Local 19, and brings the corruption of the Seattle longshore union's officers into sharp relief.

Only the rank and file of the ILWU—through militant job actions and a vigilant commitment to attend every union meeting, stop these abject sell-outs by this clique of petty dictators, and rescue union democracy in the ILWU—can turn the tide and keep the ILWU from finally being transformed into its opposite, a company union.

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Elimination of Unit Breaks Joe Friday, Aug. 17, 2007 at 12:50 AM

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