The 140-member Panama Canal Towboat Masters Union (UCOC) signed an agreement on January 31st to join the Panama Division of the ILWU. The Panama division also includes the 250-member Panama Canal Pilots Union who voted to affiliate with the ILWU on September 7, 2011. ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe flew to Panama to welcome the UCOC members into the ILWU family. The UCOC represents towboat masters and mates, deck captains and officers of dredging equipment –including drilling and blasting barges and floating cranes—who work in the Panama Canal.
LANSING, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and a coalition of labor unions asked a judge today to strike down the recently passed right-to-work law because it was enacted while the public was locked out of the Capitol in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the First Amendment, and the Michigan Constitution. The case, filed on behalf of a journalist, citizens, legislators, and unions, charges that government officials, in an unprecedented assault on democracy, deprived the public of their right to participate in the legislative process.
“Rushing controversial bills through a lame duck session is a bad way to make public policy under the best of circumstances; doing so on such important issues while the public is shut out of the debate every step of the way is illegal and shameful,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “We have a sacred right to peacefully assemble and petition our government. When there is dissent and emotions are running high, our elected leaders should encourage more open debate, not close the doors to concerned voters.”
The lawsuit stems from the contentious events of Dec. 6, 2012, when the Michigan Capitol doors were locked to prevent additional people from coming to witness or engage their legislators while the controversial right-to-work bills were being debated on the House and Senate floors. The public, including some journalists, were locked out for more than four hours while legislators debated and voted on the bills. While individuals already in the Capitol could stay, people waiting outside were not allowed to enter. In addition, the galleries overlooking the House floor were intentionally packed with legislative staffers so that the public would not be allowed in.
“The role of citizen journalists in this age of media consolidation is more important than ever in bringing the news that’s not fit to print to our communities,” said Bonnie Bacqueroux, an instructor at Michigan State University School of Journalism and the co-founder of Lansing Online News, a community publication. “I was disappointed to find myself locked out of the Capitol and unable to report on this historic event. A vibrant and free media is vital to keeping government honest.”
According to the lawsuit, the lockout at the Capitol merely added to the legislators’ attempts to swiftly pass these bills with little public input. The bills were abruptly introduced during the last days of the lame-duck legislative session, already a period of diminished public accountability. Rather than allowing the bills to go through the standard committee hearing process where the public would have been invited to comment, the right-to-work language was introduced for the first time on the House and Senate floors on the same day the bills were passed.
As further evidence of the desire to prevent the public from holding their government accountable, the lawsuit also notes the appropriations provision that was added to make the legislation referendum-proof under the Michigan Constitution.
“By allowing state police to block citizens from entering the Capitol, Lansing politicians not only violated the basic American principles of open and transparent government, they also violated specific state and federal laws designed to protect the rights of citizens,” MEA President Steven Cook said. “We’re confident the courts will agree that the Legislature’s actions on the afternoon of Dec. 6 constituted a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act and should be invalidated.”
The lawsuit does not take issue with the substance of the right-to-work law, but rather with the illegal and undemocratic process used in enacting it.
“Regardless of how you feel about right-to-work laws, everyone has a stake in seeing that our government conducts business in a democratic and transparent way,” said Karla Swift, President of the Michigan State AFL-CIO. “Any law passed while citizens were locked out of their capitol building should be struck down.”
The lawsuit is being brought under the Open Meetings Act, a state law that was enacted to ensure that our government remains transparent and accountable to the public. The Open Meetings Act provides that the laws and acts of a public body may be invalidated by a court when official meetings, deliberations, or votes are held in a place that was not open and accessible to the public. In addition, the coalition alleges that the closure of the Capitol prevented citizens from exercising their First Amendment right to petition the government and their right under the Michigan Constitution to instruct their representatives.
In addition to Bucqueroux, the lawsuit was brought on behalf of Steve Cook and Rick Trainor, Sen. Rebekah Warren and Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Brandon Dillon, the Michigan Education Association (MEA), Michigan State AFL-CIO, Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council, and Change to Win.
The lawsuit was originally filed on Dec. 6, 2012 in order to reopen the Capitol doors. Today, attorneys with the ACLU of Michigan, MEA, UAW, and the law firms of White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini; Sachs Waldman; and Pitt McGehee Palmer Rivers & Golden filed an amended complaint seeking to invalidate the law. The case is currently before Ingham County Judge William E. Collette.
To read the complaint, go to: http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/RTWcomplaint.pdf.
Most of us don’t know what happens to our recycling after we take it to the curb each week.
On Saturday February 2nd, hundreds of recycling workers will gather in Oakland to expose a host of serious problems to an audience of elected officials and policy makers who oversee this supposedly “green” industry, including:
- An alarming number of injuries to recycling workers: Patricia Gutierrez, Victoria Leon and Gladis Uribe are part of the majority-female workforce at Waste Management’s Davis Street recycling facility in San Leandro where Oakland and other cities send materials to be sorted and recovered. Their work is dirty and sometimes dangerous. The women are exposed to a host of dangers including contaminated hypodermic syringes, animal carcasses and feces, heavy dust and a host of sharp objects that cause injuries. On June 19, 2012, a waste worker in another part of the Davis Street facility was crushed to death – caused by Waste Management’s failure to follow safety laws, according to Cal-OSHA that fined the company more than $50,000 and issued two “Serious” citations for ignoring the law. The company is refusing to pay the fines and is trying to appeal the citations.
- Rat infestations: Recycling workers at Waste Management’s Davis Street facility were plagued with an infestation of rats that management ignored until workers took action. The rodents carry a host of serious diseases, and employees were forced to work in close proximity to the rats, rat feces and urine. The problem was finally addressed – but only after workers organized themselves and protested the dangerous and unlawful exposures that were ignored by Waste Management officials.
- Low pay that requires employees to work full-time for poverty-level wages: East Bay recycling workers earn 40% less than the same jobs pay in San Francisco and San Jose.
- Illegal retaliation against predominantly-immigrant workers: After workers at Waste Management prepared to protest unlawful labor practices by their employer, the company retaliated by subjecting some workers to an E-verify background check of immigrations status, resulting in several workers losing their jobs and generating a climate of fear and intimidation. Waste Management’s actions were prohibited by the union contract, which the company violated. It’s also a violation of federal law for companies to retaliate against workers who organize together and take action to stand up for their rights, as happened in this case.
Hundreds of recycling workers are continuing to organize, despite efforts by employers to threaten and intimidate them. Come here the stories of these workers and their efforts make their jobs safer, improve services and win fair pay for the dangerous and difficult jobs that they perform.
This event will take place at the ILWU Local 6 hall at 99 Hegenberger Road, Oakland, CA 94621 on Saturday February 2nd, from 2-6 pm.
ILWU Local 13 has represented a dozen commercial fumigators in the Port of Los Angeles since 1990. These members fumigate the fruit that longshoreman discharge at SSAs berth 55 in San Pedro. Late in 2012 one of the members reported contract violations to the union and the officers began an investigation.
The local identified multiple contractual violations and complaints were filed against the employer. Several meetings were held with the fumigators to discuss the issues and collectively decide on how the union and workers would move forward.
Discussions with the direct employer became stalled in late December and Local 13 began preparing Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) charges against the employer and scheduled a date for arbitration of the complaints. With a deadline looming, the employer discussions on a settlement began in earnest and slow steady progress was made. A final demand was presented to the employer and they were given one week to accept or move forward with arbitration. On the sixth day, the employer agreed with all union demands and on January 23, the workers signed off on the resolution of the complaints.
The employer will pay out $73,000 in back wages, vacation and holiday pay. “These brothers came to the union with significant and egregious violations of their collective bargaining agreement; the officers took immediate steps to bring their employer into compliance with the contract,” said Bobby Olvera, Jr Vice President of Local 13. “This resolve is more than just a monetary settlement, it reaffirms the ILWU motto: An Injury to one is an Injury to all.”
“It felt as if we were alone until the officers of Local 13 took up our cause,” said ILWU Local 13 Fumigator Juan Diaz. “We are a small unit but we work very hard and work withvery dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. Our company treated us unfairly and mocked the union. They are not doing either one of those things now. I am very proud to be a member of the ILWU.”
Local 10 activist Leo Robinson passed away on January 14th at the age of 75, leaving behind a legacy of passionate advocacy for his union, for the working class, the struggle against racism and the battle to end Apartheid in South Africa.Robinson was outspoken and not afraid of controversy. He frequently challenged officials and union policies, using his passion and public speaking skills to command respect from his audience. “When he took the floor to speak, people always listened and gave him respect – even if they didn’t agree with him” said ILWU Local 10 President Mike Villeggiante.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1937, Robinson moved with his family to the East Bay during World War II. Both parents found jobs at Moore’s Ship, one of many shipyards in the Bay Area’s booming wartime economy that hired African Americans because of a labor shortage, executive orders signed by President Roosevelt and organized protests to end discriminatory hiring. Along with his parents and four siblings, he lived in the Cypress Village housing project, located in West Oakland with many other African-Americans who settled in communities where color-lines were tightly drawn.
After the war, Robinson’s father got a job on the waterfront and became a member of ILWU Local 10, which had been founded on the principle of racial equality. Robinson attended Oakland Technical High School, but quit in the 12th grade to join the US Navy where he served almost four years following the Korean War. After an honorable discharge, Robinson was briefly a member of the ILWU Ship Scaler’s Local 2, then took a job at GM’s Fisher Body plant in Oakland, but hated the monotony of the assembly line.
In 1963, ILWU Local 10 accepted Robinson as a “B-man” where he enjoyed the great variety of tasks and cargoes that came before containerization. He earned his A-status around 1967 while containers were making an impact in Oakland, but disliked working as a lasher and decided to became a winch driver instead.
Robinson became politicized in the late 1960’s during the war in Vietnam. He remembered a day when he and others in his gang were talking about the war when a co-worker asked some questions that he couldn’t answer. Robinson responded by educating himself and looking to others for help, including Archie Brown, Local 10’s well-known, proud and public member of the Communist Party. From that time onward, Robinson became an activist who dedicated himself to protecting fellow workers, promoting union democracy, and defending the contract. He frequently spoke at meetings, served several terms on the Local 10 Executive Board and was elected as a Longshore Caucus delegate.
Inspired in 1976 by the uprising of South African students in Soweto, Robinson helped form Local 10’s Southern Africa Liberation Support Committee (SALSC) – the first anti-apartheid group in an American labor union – and proudly noted that SALSC was created by a vote of Local 10’s rank-and-file. Along with Larry Wright, Dave Stewart, Bill Proctor, and others, their group led a successful one-day boycott of South African cargo in 1977. They also collected donations and tons of food and medical supplies that were shipped to help freedom fighters in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. They worked closely with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and community groups in the anti-apartheid movement.
Robinson’s most impressive action occurred in 1984, just weeks after President Reagan’s landslide re-election, when members of Locals 10 and 34 organized the longest boycott of South African cargo in US History. When the vessel Nedlloyd Kimberly docked at San Francisco’s Pier 80, Robinson and the SALSC were ready. Workers dispatched to Pier 80 refused to touch the South African cargo, although they unloaded the rest of the ship. For eleven days, as thousands rallied outside the port in support, the cargo remained in the hold – despite pressure from the PMA and a federal injunction. Six years later, when Nelson Mandela toured the US, after being released from prison, he thanked the ILWU before a sold-out crowd at the Oakland Coliseum.
Robinson remained active during his later years. “He was concerned about people all over the world,” said Larry Wright, a fellow SALSC leader. As a pensioner, Robinson attended Local 10 meetings and continued making persuasive speeches, including one that encouraged members to pass a resolution opposing the war and shut down ports on May Day of 2008. He also invested his own money in social causes – including a $50,000 donation made in 2004 to support the dream of a Million Worker March. “Brother Leo Robinson was ruthless when it came to the question of economic and social justice,” said Local 10 member and fellow activist, Clarence Thomas.
Robinson and his wife Johnnie spent their final years together in the Sierra foothills town of Raymond, but he regularly returned to the Bay area to see union friends and family. A memorial service is being planned for the Local 10 hall. – Peter Cole
Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He conducted lengthy interviews with Leo Robinson for a book that will cover the history of Local 10 and longshore worker activism in Durban, South Africa.
I recently went on a trip to Panama. Before leaving I remembered the Panama Canal Pilots had affiliated with the ILWU. Through friends at the longshore caucus, I made contact with ILWU Vice President Ray Familathe, who was able to get me in contact with a few of the pilots before I left.
I am a member of Local 98, Puget Sound Foreman, so I have the opportunity to work with members from many different locals. As time was short before I left, I made contact with only the closest locals and picked up some shirts and hats to give to our Panamanian Brothers and Sisters. I made my initial contact with ILWU International Executive Board member, Captain Londor Rankin and within moments I had a response and contact information for some other brothers from Panama including Rainiero Salas, Secretary General (President) of their union. I was immediately impressed with the generosity and sincerity of the men that I was communicating with. I was asked about my needs or interests that they might be able to help with and they made themselves available for assistance if it was needed it.
I called Londor after arriving at our hotel. He was working “in the canal” so our conversation was broken up between him moving a ship in the locks. We made plans to meet the next day. Being ignorant of the Canal and the pilot’s shifts, I called Londor about 9:00 a.m. and made arrangements to meet. My traveling party planned to leave for the resort about 3:00 p.m. so our time was limited. He picked me up and we began a whirlwind tour of Panama City. Londor ran me out to see the Canal, Miraflores and Pedro
Miguel locks, the Pilot station, and their union hall. We grabbed a quick lunch and had some time to sit and talk. That is when I found out that Londor’s transit of the canal ended after 5:00 a.m. I felt guilty that I ruined his sleep, but I was also amazed at his commitment to help me and his generosity with his time.
He said that their union meeting was the following Wednesday, and invited me to meet more of the Pilots. I said I would love to but was I staying about 70 miles away and the group needed our van that night. Londor said they could work it out and arrange to pick me up and get me home.
Wednesday came and Pilot Orlando Rebolledo made arrangements to drive two hours west to pick me up for the union meeting. We drove and talked. Orlando explained that his son, Orlando, Jr., was a graduate of the Maritime Academy and had recently flown to LAX to meet his ship at the Port of Long Beach. The agent had failed to meet him at the airport and he was stranded at LAX. He was in a foreign country and didn’t know anyone, or any have contacts. Orlando Jr., called his father, who then called Londor to see if he knew anyone that could help. Londor called Ray Familathe—who was in San Francisco at the time—and Ray assured Londor he would find a brother to help. Ray called Stefan Muller, ITF inspector in Los Angeles. Stefan soon had Orlando Jr. in transit to a hotel and made arrangements to pick him up in the morning to deliver him to the gangway of his ship. The connection was relayed back to Orlando Sr., much to his relief. I felt privileged to share in this story and also proud of our union and the solidarity we share.
Orlando Sr. sent an email to Vice President Familathe thanking him for helping out his son and really sums up the importance of our union brotherhood. He wrote: “I can’t find the words to thank you for doing me the great favor of helping my son. I have strived to teach my children the importance of friendship. Although in our line of work the more accurate term would be brotherhood. When Londor called me to tell me he had spoken with you and everything was under control I realized how important it was to be a member of this ILWU brotherhood.”
We made it to the union hall in time for dinner before the meeting. They provide dinner for the pilots because some are coming straight from the canal and others are leaving the meeting heading to the canal. Orlando introduced me to Secretary General Rainiero Salas (Ray S). I was given an opportunity to address the body and I was greeted very warmly. After the meeting I was able to talk with Ray S. one-on-one. We shared stories about our work, our unions, passions and concerns. The more we talked the more I realized the unique fit and blend that our unions have. Secretary General Salas shared how the pilots became interested in the ILWU and that it went all the way back to the lockout and negotiations of 2002. Londor Rankin, who was then serving as Secretary General of the Panama Canal Pilots, was invited to sit in on some of the negotiations, and from what I understand the employers were not at all happy Pilots is a part of that tradition. Solidarity doesn’t always have to be a labor action or rally. Small acts of member-to-member solidarity and friendship like helping out a brother or sister who is in a tough spot help make this union great.”
I had a great trip to Panama. Some of the greatest highlights for me were meeting new friends and union brothers. We really do have a great Union and the fit with the I.L.W.U. and the Panama Canal Pilots is truly a good one.
– Rodney A. Edgbert
Local union officials have announced a membership ratification vote has been scheduled on Wednesday, February 6th for the tentative agreement reached following the 8-day strike that ended on December 4, 2012. The Dispatcher will report on the results in the next issue
It was early in the afternoon of December 29, 2012 at the Pacific Beach Hotel – site of countless rallies and demonstrations led by Local 142. But on this day, instead of chants and slogans there were cheers, hugs, and high-fives. After more than 10 years of struggle, tentative agreement was reached on a first union contract for Pacific Beach workers.
For more than a decade, showing up for work at the Pacific Beach Hotel meant facing eight hours of intimidation and disrespect. The intimidation peaked in 2007 when 31 union supporters were fired – including 7 of the 10 union negotiating committee members. The fight intensified.
A local boycott of the hotel was called by Hawaii unions, community groups, and elected officials. At the request of Local 142, President McEllrath convinced the AFL-CIO to place the Pacific Beach Hotel on its national boycott list.
Union federations in the Philippines, Canada, and Japan also came forward to support the Pacific Beach workers and the boycott went international. The solidarity of unions in Japan – led by Zenkowan, the All-Japan Dockworkers Union – was especially critical because most of the hotel’s guests were Japanese.
“This fight could not have been won without the strength and determination of the Pac Beach workers. These workers faced firings, harassment, and intimidation for over 10 years – but they still stuck with the ILWU.” stated International Vice President-Hawaii Wesley Furtado.
Furtado continued: “But the workers weren’t alone. Global solidarity was also key to their victory.”
Pacific Beach Hotel workers in non-tipped jobs won a 5% raise in the first year and a total increase of 13% over four years. Tipping category workers improved and secured their tips, and all workers will see major improvements in their benefits and job security. Contract ratification was nearly unanimous, with only one “no” vote.
But Pacific Beach workers did more than just improve their standard of living. They also built the foundation of a strong unit to take on the struggles that lie ahead.
Virginia Recaido, a 20-year housekeeper and negotiating committee member, was fired in 2007. She found another better-paying job, but went back to the hotel after a judge ordered the company to reinstate her. Why? “I had to show the company that they didn’t win. I don’t want people who come after me to suffer like I did.”
Kapena Kanaiaupuni, a bellman with nearly 30 years seniority, is also a member of the negotiating committee who was fired and reinstated. After ratification, he was approached by immigrant Korean and Chinese workers excited about their first union contract. Differences in languages and cultures had kept them apart, but the workers’ victory changed that. Kanaiaupuni told them: “Never mind about nationality – we’re all one now!”