Editor’s Note: This article comes to us via the ILWU and was written by Mark Friedman, veteran trade unionist, and member of the International Association of Machinists.
Scores of union members from the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific (IBU) and other divisions of the ILWU rallied in front of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission on December 15 to raise awareness about the impact that closing Westoil Marine Services in the L.A. harbor will have on local workers and their families. Centerline Logistics recently announced that it will be closing operations at its subsidiary, Westoil, at the end of December. The rally at the Harbor Commission was part of the IBU’s political and legal efforts to protect its jurisdiction and preserve area wage standards on tugs and barges in the L.A. and Long Beach harbors
Corporate shell games
The closure of Westoil is a part of a complicated shell game that began in 2020, consisting of asset exchanges by two large national marine transportation corporations, Saltchuk Marine and Centerline Logistic. This corporate maneuver has upended the livelihood of scores of maritime workers represented by the IBU, Masters, Mates, and Pilots (MM&P), and the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP). The asset exchange by Saltchuk and Centerline has allowed the companies to replace longstanding contracts with the IBU and the MM&P with a substandard agreement with the Seafarers International Union (SIU) that undermines the standards for fair wages and benefits previously set by the IBU and MM&P collective bargaining agreements.
In December 2020, Saltchuk Marine announced that it acquired eight ship assist tugs owned by Centerline Logistics and operated in the Pacific Northwest and California. Centerline Logistics, in turn, purchased six bunker barges operated in California from Foss Maritime, a subsidiary of Saltchuk. A bunker barge is like a floating petrol station. The bunker barge pumps fuel oil into the ship’s storage (bunker) tanks. That transaction impacted 55 IBU members working for the Centerline-owned Westoil/Millennium when Centerline’s Millennium-branded tug operation was sold to Saltchuk operation.
Instead of folding the six bunker barges and the contracts it acquired from Foss into its existing marine fueling companies including Westoil, Centerline gave the contract and barges to its newly created subsidiary, Leo Marine Services, leaving many of the IBU mariners who manned both the Millennium tugs and the Westoil barges without work.
The transfer of work from Westoil to Leo Marine by Centerline is currently being challenged by the IBU at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Southern California IBU Regional Director John Skow told the protesters, “We’re going to fight for those jobs because these guys worked during the pandemic, and they worked here for years. There is a lot of experience here, and they just want to throw them out into the street like garbage. We want their jobs back or have the company find jobs for them at their other facilities.”
Newly elected L.A. City Councilmember Tim McOsker, who represents San Pedro, voiced his concern at the commission hearing and told the demonstrators outside, “We need the Port Commission to enforce all the rules and to hang onto these great jobs and stick with working families and the contracts that you have signed.”
IBU member and Westoil employee, Cris Sogliuzzo, made his third appearance speaking before the L.A. Harbor Commission. The commission administrates the lease agreements for tenants like Centerline Logistics in the port of LA.
“One of the main charges at the NLRB is that the transfer of our work from Westoil to Leo Marine is what I believe to be an effort to eliminate the Westoil IBU unit,” Sogliuzzo said during the public comment period. “I am asking the Harbor Commission to conduct an investigation into the labor law charges pending at the NLRB and to investigate the intent to close Westoil operations as it relates to the lease permit 882. If the Commission finds that wrongdoing has occurred, I would like to see the Harbor Commission and City Attorney take affirmative action on our behalf. I would also like to see injunctive relief, so that Westoil is not allowed to close its doors on us while the other affiliates are allowed to continue to operate at this location performing our historical work, despite being challenged before the NLRB.”
Solidarity from UAW
IBU members were joined by dozens of United Autoworkers Local 2865 members working at UCLA. IBU members have walked the picket lines at UCLA and UC San Diego as an act of solidarity supporting the 48,000 academic workers striking throughout the University of California system. IBU members have also been out to Moreno Valley to support the organizing drive by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) at the giant warehouses there.
“We wanted thank the IBU for sending their members to teach us what real picket lines are all about,” said UAW 2865 member Jared Brewster. “They helped us picket construction sites at UCLA and gave inspiring speeches. This is how we can mutually support each other’s actions. As long as we are isolated, it is a boon to the bosses.”