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Coast Longshore Division Caucus Unanimously Votes to Send Tentative Agreement to Membership


After four days of discussion and debate, the Coast Longshore Division’s Contract Caucus voted unanimously on July 21 to send the tentative agreement (TA) on a new six-year contract to the membership for a ratification vote. The Contract Caucus is the first step in the Longshore Division’s democratic, contract ratification process.

The nearly 100 elected delegates representing 29 longshore and clerk locals along the West Coast met from January 31-February 11, 2022 to give direction to the Negotiating Committee on bargaining demands for the new contract. The delegates reconvened in Long Beach July 17-22 to debate the TA, which was reached after approximately 13 months of negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). The caucus delegates reviewed the TA section by section and had the opportunity to discuss every aspect of the contract.

After the vote by the caucus, copies of the TA were sent to all longshore and clerk locals and mailed to longshore and clerk registrants in a special edition of the Dispatcher. The TA was then presented at local union stop-work meetings where members had the opportunity to discuss and debate the TA.

“The ILWU has always been a rank-and-file union and the decision now rests with the Longshore Division membership,” said ILWU International President Willie Adams.

Observers and guests

The Contract Caucus was open to  registered longshore and clerk  to observe. Workers came from as far away as Tacoma and Seattle. Among the guests and fraternal delegates were ILWU President Emeritus James Spinoza and ILWU President Emeritus Robert McEllrath, nearly 80 members of the Hawaii Longshore Division, Dennis Young and Jeff Hancock from the Alaska Longshore Division, more than 20 pensioners, and guests from the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), and the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ).


The caucus was dedicated to the memories of those who recently passed. Delegates took to the mic to read into the record the names of members and pensioners whom we have lost over the past year.

Morning speakers

On the first day of the caucus, before delegates started discussing the TA, they heard from several speakers starting with a video message sent by Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su who assisted in the final stages of the negotiations. Acting Secretary Su discussed the importance of the collective bargaining process, thanked the Negotiating Committee for their hard work, and thanked caucus delegates for the important role they play in the ratification process.

“This administration is committed to the right of workers to form a union, and understand the importance of the union in bargaining a contract, and the power of the members to decide whether that contract is fair,” Su said. “President Biden and I know that the collective bargaining process is the best way to reach mutually beneficial solutions, and get workers the wages, benefits, and quality of life you deserve.”

FMC Commissioner Max Vekich

Following Acting Secretary Su, Local 52 pensioner, and current Commissioner on Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), Max Vekich recounted his intertwined careers in politics and the longshore industry—from his days an assembly member in Washington State to his role as the Chair of the Longshore Division’s Legislative Committee, and eventually his appointment as FMC Commissioner.

“Senator Maria Cantwell and Willie Adams are the godparents of me being on the FMC,” Vekich said. Commissioner Vekich also spoke about the important work the FMC does to regulate foreign carriers.

Executive Directors Cordero and Seroka

Following Commissioner Vekich, the delegates heard from Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero and Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka.

“It’s the year of negotiations when it comes to labor,” Cordero said, noting the ongoing struggle by workers for fair wages in many industries from UPS and hotel workers to writers and actors.  “American workers are now getting the benefit of what they should have been receiving for many years. I think it’s good for democracy. Wages now appear to be moving up a little bit and there is more equity for workers.”

Seroka spoke about the positive signs on the horizon for continued growth in container volume on the West Coast. He said the American economy is resilient and the fear of recession some economists predicted is not going to materialize. He also noted the importance of California’s recently passed infrastructure package which includes $1.5 billion in funding for infrastructure in California’s 11 municipal ports.

Remarks by Pres. Adams

President Adams gave a timeline of the key milestones and sticking points during the 13-month negotiations. He thanked all of the solidarity delegations from dockworkers around the world that came in to sit in on negotiations and show their support. Pres. Adams also thanked the entire Negotiating Committee and the Safety Committee.  “If I had to do it again, I would do it with this committee. We were in a foxhole, and they gave everything,” Adams said.

Pres. Adams asked delegates to question the Negotiating Committee and to evaluate the merits of the entire document. “This contract is for the rank-and-file,” he said.  “We made gains. There is a little bit in here for everyone. We didn’t ask the employer for anything. We went in there and took it.”

International guests

The Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) National Secretary Chris Cain brought greetings from Australia. He spoke about the ties that unite the ILWU and the CFMMEU including the militant, rank-and-file nature of both unions and their commitment to fighting for real gains for the working class.

“We don’t just talk about disputes. Our unions help the working class. Our unions fight for working-class people around the world,” Cain said. “What is global solidarity? Is it just words? We want decent wages. We want decent conditions in employment. We want a decent pension for when we retire, and we want a world that lives in peace. That is what we want. And we’ve got to fight for it.”

Cain was followed by Craig Harrison from the Maritime Union of New Zealand who spoke about the long history between the ILWU and MUNZ and the important acts of solidarity from the ILWU particularly during the Ports of Auckland dispute.

ITF President Paddy Crumlin spoke about the importance of union democracy and the power of militant unionism to transform society by offering an alternative vision for the world.

“It’s going to be your decision to approve or reject the contract like it always has been,” Crumlin said. “What a union you’ve built in a world of corruption, selfishness, and bigotry, where we can come together as human beings, and set aside our differences—racial differences,  age, and ethnicity, and forge a different type of vision for humanity.”

Crumlin also touched on the issue of automation saying it is a mechanism employers use to attack workers.

“Automation isn’t about productivity, it’s about union busting. It’s not faster, it’s not cheaper. It’s not a worthy investment for all those shareholders,” said Crumlin. “It doesn’t create wealth. It’s designed to diminish the industrial rights of the working men and women of the waterfront here on the West Coast of America, on the East Coast of America, in Australia, in Europe, and around the world.”

Hawaii Longshore Division

Hawaii Longshore Division Director Dustin Dawson spoke briefly, explaining that they brought a large delegation of Hawaii longshore workers to the caucus in order to educate a new generation and so they can benefit from the knowledge and experience of everyone in the room. He encouraged delegates to take time to speak with the Hawaiian longshore workers and share stories with them.

Hollywood to the docks

On Thursday morning, the caucus heard from actor Sean Astin, whose career has spanned four decades. Astin is best known for his portrayal of Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he addressed the caucus as a fellow union member, worker, and labor activist. He is a member of the Negotiating Committee for SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents film and television workers. They are currently striking their employer for fair wages and to protect future work for their members—work that is currently being threatened by automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

SAG-AFTRA went on strike on July 14th after failing to reach an agreement with their employer group, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has been on strike against the same employers since May 2. The strike marks the first time that actors have initiated a labor dispute since 1980 and the first time since 1960 that both actors and writers have struck their employer simultaneously.

Astin spoke about first meeting longshore workers in Seattle through his union activism and thanked ILWU members for their work during COVID.

“I’m so grateful for what you all were able to do through sheer guts and bravery during COVID to keep going when the country needed you. It should not take employers 13 months to acknowledge in any contract the value you bring to this world,” Astin said.

Astin recounted his experience at the bargaining table and his frustrations with the employer group’s unwillingness to engage their reasonable proposals. He noted that the overwhelming majority of actors struggle just to make ends meet while studios and streaming services are raking in massive profits and executives are receiving exorbitant salaries.

“People think of actors as Tom Cruise and the upper echelon of movie stars. We have 160,000 people in our union and 87 percent don’t make the annual $26,000 threshold for health insurance benefits. We are mostly an out-of-work, underworked, and working-class group of people,” Astin explained. “There comes a time when you have to determine for yourself what you’re worth and we’ve done that. For the last 15 or 20 years there’s been political infighting in our union. That’s over. We are 100 percent united.”

Actors, like workers in other industries throughout the economy, including longshore, are fighting to preserve work for future generations by putting guard rails in the use of automation technologies and artificial intelligence that employers are trying to deploy, not to increase efficiency but to eliminate jobs and more important directly attack the power of workers and their unions.

“We don’t take any job action or strike lightly. People are already hurting, but in our industry, we’ve undergone so many changes. There is always some technological change that recalibrates what our industry does in relationship to its workers,” Astin said, “but this moment we’re in right now with AI, we feel like we’re on the frontlines of this fight with you, the rest of labor and the rest of humanity. If we don’t start organizing ourselves and putting some fences on that technology, our grandkids are going to be living in a bot-driven world wondering why we failed them.”

Solidarity with striking hotel workers

The caucus also heard from UNITE-HERE Local 11 Co-President Ada Briceño who spoke about the ongoing strike by hotel workers in Southern California.

Presidents Emeritus

The caucus was then addressed by ILWU President Emeritus James Spinoza and President Emeritus Robert McEllrath.

Spinoza reflected on the vast changes in technology on the waterfront over his career.  “I came on the waterfront in 1969,” Spinoza said. “We were driving forklifts in the holds of ships, small little liberty ships—small compared to what is out there today. The ships are getting bigger and bigger and running even with fewer crew members because of AI and everything else.

“Our best deterrent from the employers moving so fast on this robotics is by doing a good job. We break records every year. We’ll continue to break it as long as you stay vigilant and understand that it’s critical to do a good job out there to protect our work.”

Spinoza was followed by McEllrath who spoke about how each contract builds and improves upon the last one.

“Every contract is a little different,” McEllrath said. “You get this one, five years from now, you’re going to have another one, and you’re going to stack it on top. I see new faces, new leadership, young people that will take over. Remember that you’re building and building each contract.”

Honors for Russ Bargmann

Retired Research Director Russ Bargmann was honored by the Coast Committee for his nearly 50 years of service to the ILWU and the Longshore Division.

ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Bobby Olvera presented Russ with his decades-old wooden inbox, signed by the Coast Committee, the Coast Longshore Division staff, and the Negotiating Committee. Coast Committeemen Cam Williams and Frank Ponce De Leon presented Russ with a bronze fist holding a cargo hook cast by Local 19 pensioner Ron Gustin.

“Russ exemplifies what this organization is about,” said President Adams. “He could have made more money doing another job, but there’s something about giving back to the working class.”

Bargmann thanked the Longshore Division for the opportunity to serve the ILWU. He recounted how he was first hired in 1978 to develop a safety program for the Longshore Division. He praised the Division’s commitment to continually improving the safety provisions of the contract.

“The rules in the safety code have been paid for by blood and the lives of workers on the waterfront,” Bargmann said. “The fact that there is a safety code is so important, I can’t think of any other industries where there’s a negotiated safety code that is better than what OSHA provides. My hat’s off to you for continuing to do that and for pushing contract after contract to make lives better and safer for those on the waterfront.”

Voting on the contract will take place through the month of August. The results of the ratification vote will be published in a future issue of the Dispatcher.

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