April 13, 2015: On April 15, workers will rally, sit-in and even strike as part of a national day of action to fight for $15-an-hour and a union. Teamster members are getting in on the action too.
More than 60,000 workers in over 120 cities will rally, protest or strike on April 15 in the biggest national day of action since the movement began four years ago.
Grassroots action has paid off. Walmart raised its wages and will hike them again next year. Starting next February, starting pay will be $10 an hour. That’s still not nearly enough—but it’s good that Walmart is feeling the heat.
Trying to head off bad publicity from the April 15 protests, McDonalds increased the pay of 90,000 employees to $9.90 an hour—but another 750,000 McDonalds workers who work at franchises are not eligible for the pay increase.
Keep in mind, Walmart, fast food and other low wage workers work part-time with no benefits.
The Fight for $15 goes way beyond McDonalds. What began as a movement of fast food workers has spread to nursing homes, homecare, Wal-mart and more.
On April 15, UPS part-timers are joining the Fight for $15 with “End Part-Time Poverty at UPS” rallies and worksite actions.
Higher wages—and union rights for all. That’s what the Fight for $15 is all about.
April 9, 2015: Yesterday Teamster leaders and Central States Pension Fund director Thomas Nyhan laid out in vague terms their plan to cut the pensions of retirees and active Teamsters. A preliminary letter to all participants will be mailed out today.
No details or numbers are being revealed, but they did outline their timeline for cuts. By June or soon after, every active Teamster and retiree will receive an individualized estimate of how the proposed cuts will affect them personally.
By late summer or fall, there will be a vote of all active and retired Teamsters on the plan. It is very important that Teamsters and retirees organize now to prepare to reject the plan – we need to send a signal to help mitigate the cuts and win a better solution.
The law requires this vote and certain procedures which will take several months, so no cuts are possible until the spring of 2016.
That gives us time to organize for better solutions that do not place the full burden on slashing pensions. Retirees and Teamsters are organizing now – and the movement is spreading. To get involved, click here.
The pension fund named a Retiree Representative, Susan Mauren, which is required by law before they can go forward on their plan to cut pensions. A letter from Mauren provides her contact information. Retirees are calling on sister Mauren to meet with the retiree committees that are forming to fight the cuts, and to commission a truly independent actuarial review and audit. Members are asking about Mauren – you can read her Teamster background here.
The battle to save pensions is going forward.Pension and Benefits
Sue Mauren was a Teamster employed at the University of Minnesota. She participated in a pension plan run by the university, and was not a participant in the Central States Fund (CSPF) She became a Teamster around 1980 and continued till the early 1990s, when she was hired as a business agent.
Mauren was hired as a business agent in the early 1990s by the leaders of Local 320. The officers of Local 320 were removed for corruption by the Independent Review Board (IRB) in the mid-1990s, and the local was placed into trusteeship. Mauren was not implicated in the corrupt schemes, and retained her position as a BA.
No working members of Local 320 participate in the CSPF. They are all public employees. Thus Mauren did not negotiate or administer any contracts covering CSPF participants.
Later, Mauren was elected and re-elected as the secretary treasurer of Minnesota Local 320. As a BA and full time officer of the union, she became a participant in the CSPF, by virtue of her office, until she retired in 2012.
Mauren had other pension and lump-sum retirement plans as well:
- She retained rights to her pension credits earned at the University of Minnesota.
- As an officer of Local 320, she benefited from the Joint Council 32 plan, which is only for officers and agents; it paid a sizable lump sum upon her retirement.
- As an officer of Local 320, she enjoyed a matching 401k plan, with contributions from her and matching sums from the Local 320 treasury.
- As a BA and later the secretary treasurer of Local 320, she earned about 20 credited years in the Central States Fund.
Mauren received three union salaries: from the local, from the joint council, and an extra $40,000 per year from the International union. She was very close to the Hoffa leadership. Her brother-in-law, Jeff Farmer, was appointed Organizing Director of the IBT by Hoffa.
Thus sister Mauren is a participant in the CSPF, but unlike most participants, she has enjoyed additional pensions and lump-sums.Issues: Pension and Benefits
April 8, 2015: Over 100 Teamsters from across the Midwest and South converged on the Rosemont Convention Center today to voice their objections to possible pension cuts by the Teamster Central States Pension Fund.
"We're here today because we worked hard, sometimes gave up raises, to earn a decent pension,” said Greg Smith, a retiree from Akron Ohio Local 24. The retirees talked with officials and passed out a leaflet to them, as they entered the meeting called by the pension fund.
In that meeting, fund director Thomas Nyhan told Teamster officials that pension cuts are the only answer, and laid out a timeline.
Nyhan was a principal supporter of a bill that sneaked through Congress as an amendment to the federal budget last December, to allow troubled pension plans to make cuts in already-earned pensions.
The rally was called by committees that are part of a growing movement to defend pensions. Groups travelled from Wisconsin, various Ohio cities, Iowa, Tennessee, Michigan, Georgia, Missouri and other areas. The Wisconsin Committee to Protect Pension spearheaded the rally.
Nyhan reported that they will immediately mail a preliminary letter to 65,000 active Teamsters and 210,000 retirees and others who have earned a vested pension. His timeline calls for cuts to be announced to each member early this summer.
Under the new law, all retirees and active Teamsters will then get a vote. Even though that vote can be voided, it is a crucial tool to send a signal where we stand, and the pension movement will make the most of it. That vote could come by late summer. The fund has a new website page to explain their plan for pension cuts.
Nyhan wants the cuts implemented by a year from now. That gives us time to head them off and work for better solutions.
The pension movement, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) the Pension Rights Center, in alliance with the AARP and various unions, is calling for change to the pension cut law so that the full burden of pension problems does not fall on retirees, who earned their pensions.
And where is Teamster president Hoffa, as the Teamster Trustees of the Teamster fund call for slashing pensions?
Hoffa sent International vice president John Murphy to gladhand retirees at the rally. He repeatedly claimed that Hoffa is “on your side” fighting the cuts. Then he walked in and heard Hoffa’s other representatives, such as international trustee Jim Kabell the Teamster trustees of the fund, tell officials to sell members and retirees on getting their pensions slashed.Pension and Benefits
In December 2014, Congress changed pension law by attaching the Pension Reform Act (PRA) to the must-pass 2015 omnibus spending bill as a rider. Doing so allowed the PRA to not be debated on the floor and spared House and Senate members from having to vote on an unpopular measure.
Currently, the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means is pursuing the reform of Social Security, using much the same rationale that was employed to cut benefits of private pension-plan participants — that if changes are not made, retirees face drastic cuts. The committee states: “Without action to address the fiscal and structural challenges facing Social Security, seniors will see a 23 percent cut to their benefits beginning in 2033. Action must be taken now to preserve the promise of Social Security for today’s beneficiaries and future generations.”
Click here to read more at the Star Tribune.Issues: Pension and Benefits
FedEx Corp (FDX.N) is to buy Dutch package delivery firm TNT Express (TNTE.AS) for an agreed 4.4 billion euros ($4.8 billion), stepping up the challenge to rivals United Parcel Service (UPS.N) and Deutsche Post (DPWGn.DE) in Europe.
European regulators blocked a 2013 takeover of TNT by UPS due to concerns it would stifle competition, but analysts and executives said on Tuesday FedEx, with its strong air fleet, would complement TNT's sizeable European road network.
Click here to read more at Reuters.
Since joining the company in 2011, the Overland Park-based less-than-truckload carrier has come a long way. It has dodged bankruptcy and default fears, reorganized its labor agreement with its union employees and reached a new debt agreement that will allow the company to focus on doing business. With two straight profitable quarters under its belt, YRC is feeling better in 2015 and attracting new investors.
Click here to read more at Kanas City Business Journal.Issues: Freight
The website – Truth About John Arnold – is sponsored by the National Public Pension Coalition (NPPC) andCalifornians for Retirement Security and traces the wide financial influence that one billionaire has on public pension fights. John Arnold amassed his fortune as an Enron trader, where he earned an $8 million bonus as the company’s collapse decimated $1.5 billion in public pension assets. Arnold turned his $8 million into billions as a Wall Street hedge fund manager.
Click here to read more.Issues: Pension and Benefits
ILWU Longshore Caucus delegates vote to recommend tentative agreement to membership for ratification vote
SAN FRANCISCO – ILWU Coast Longshore Caucus delegates voted Friday to recommend approval of the tentative agreement reached on February 20, 2015, between the union and employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).
The tentative agreement was approved on February 20 by the ILWU’s 16-member elected Negotiating Committee and 8-member Safety Sub-Committee. The proposed 5-year contract covers 20,000 dockworkers at 29 west coast ports.
All 90 delegates to the Coast Longshore Caucus spent this week reviewing the proposed agreement line- by-line, before voting by 78% to recommend the proposal on Friday.
“This agreement required ten months of negotiations – the longest in recent history,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, “but we secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, families and communities from San Diego to Bellingham. Longshore men and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”
Copies of the agreement will be mailed to longshore union members, who will then have a chance to discuss the proposal at local union meetings. A secret ballot membership ratification vote will be the final step in the process. A final tally will be conducted on May 22.
# # # #
Below are links to download information about the 36th Annual ILWU General Convention that will be held June 8-12 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
UPS Inc. plans to build 15 compressed natural gas fueling stations to support its purchase and deployment of 1,400 new CNG vehicles over the next year.
Twelve stations will be in new natural-gas deployment areas, and three will replace existing CNG stations with higher-capacity equipment, the company said April 1.
Click here to read more at Transport Topics.Issues: UPS
- Work: What Is It Good For?
- Syndicalist Union Protests Migrant Worker Exploitation In Berlin
- Eclipse The Past. Usurp The Future.
- How I Spent My Permanent Vacation
- The Joe Hill Centenary Takes To The Road
- Is The Work ‘Ethic’ Really Ethical?
Download a Free PDF of this issue.
March 31, 2015: Stop the rush to pension cuts will be the rallying cry when retirees and active Teamsters converge on Rosemont, to ask their local officers to Say No to Pension Cuts.
The Central States Pension Fund has summoned hundreds of Teamster officials to a meeting Wednesday, April 8, where pension fund director Thomas Nyhan will report on his plans regarding possible pension cuts for some 300,000 retired and active Teamsters.
The Wisconsin Committee to Protect Pensions has called for a rally to defend Teamster retirement security to commence at 11 am outside the Rosemont Convention Center. Active and retired Teamsters from Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and as far as Georgia will be traveling by bus, car, and van to meet up and be heard.
"Why are we being rushed to take cuts when Central States has had over two years to get this bill passed by Congress?”, commented Bob Amsden a retired Milwaukee Local 200 freight Teamster.
All concerned retirees, active Teamsters, and retiree advocates are invited to be there and lend support. We will take our case to all the union officers attending as well as the national media.
WHAT: Rally to Defend Our Pensions. No Rush to Pension Cuts without an Independent Audit.
WHEN: 11 am CDT, Wednesday April 8.
WHERE: The Rosemont Convention Center is located at 5555 N. River Rd. in Rosemont, Illinois.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Wisconsin Committee to Protect Pensions – Bob Amsden (414) 688 -5010. Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions – Mike Walden (330) 801-1108. Cincinnati Area – Tom Krekeler (513) 324-3574. St. Louis Area – Sue Cole (314) 550-6179. Central Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions – Whitlaw Wyatt (740) 606-4861. TDU – Pete Landon (313) 842-2600.Issues: Pension and Benefits
March 31, 2015: The 2014 financial report of the IBT is available, as of today, as are the financial reports of nearly all Teamster local unions.
Hoffa’s salary rose to $305,759, and including his lucrative “housing allowance” he made $379,411.
To access your local’s 2014 report, just follow the instructions here.
Today is the deadline for every local, joint council, or international to file its 2014 LM-2 financial report with the U.S. Department of Labor. All U.S. locals must file a report, unless they are composed solely of public employees.
The Teamster Rank & File Education and Legal Defense Foundation (TRF) will be compiling information for hundreds of reports, and will produce an analysis for Teamster members. We know our Teamster dues are a great investment, and want to make sure that all members understand how our dues money is being used.
You can access our report compiled last year.
If you have any questions or need help getting an LM-2, please call the TDU National Office at 313-842-2600, or click here to ask a question or send us a message.Issues: TDU UPS Freight Network
From the ILWU Oral History Project, Volume IX, Part III
Introduction by Harvey Schwartz
This is the third article in a series featuring ILWU veterans of the “Old Left” who were once active in the American Communist Party (CP). While historians have argued for years about whether Harry Bridges was ever a Communist, not many writers have seriously explored the contributions of ILWU members who actually were in the CP. The present series addresses this oversight.
Don Watson, the focus of this month’s oral history, was a CP member between 1948 and 1956. One would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated adherent to the cause of labor. Watson retired from ship clerks Local 34 in 1993 after years of activist work for the ILWU and other unions, including the Marine Cooks and Stewards (MCS) in the early 1950s and the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the 1960s and 1970s. Today he is still helping the ILWU by assisting with the union’s lobbying program at the California state capitol.
Watson chaired the Local 34 executive board for 19 of the 24 years he served on that body. He told me he usually became chair or secretary of any labor committee he joined. Given his integrity and resolve, it is easy to understand why. In 1996 he helped set up the Copra Crane Labor Landmark Association (CCLLA) in San Francisco to preserve an outmoded waterfront device as a monument to the city’s work heritage. True to form, Watson has been the CCLLA secretary-treasurer ever since.
Don Watson has also long been an officer of the Southwest Labor Studies Association. Fittingly, this month he was given that organization’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Labor Movement for his outstanding record of combining union activism with the promotion of working class history.
I interviewed Watson in 1994 and 2004 for the Labor Archives and Research Center (LARC) at San Francisco State University. Thanks to LARC Director Susan Sherwood for releasing that oral history for use here.
Edited by Harvey Schwartz, Curator, ILWU Oral History Collection
My father, Morris Watson, was a newspaper man. In the 1920s he worked for the Omaha World Herald and the Denver Post. I was born in 1929 in Evanston, Illinois. My father had a newspaper job there with the Associated Press (AP). Soon after I was born the AP sent my father to New York, where I grew up. In New York my father was considered one of the AP’s best reporters. He covered major stories for the AP like the 1932 kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh’s son.
In 1933 my father read an article by the famous columnist Haywood Broun, who said he wanted to organize a newspaper reporters union. My father heeded Broun’s call and became one of the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) founders. He was also an ANG International vice-president.
During 1933 my father became the lead ANG organizer at the AP’s New York office. In retaliation the AP put him on the “lobster shift” in the middle of the night. They fired him in 1935. So the ANG filed an unfair labor practice charge under the new National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This became one of a group of cases that went to the Supreme Court and resulted in the NLRA being declared constitutional in 1937.
My father also became involved in the New Deal’s Federal Theater Project. He directed “The Living Newspaper,” a theater group that dramatized headlines as plays. This was quite an enterprise in the mid-1930s. Late in the decade my father became active in New York’s left-wing American Labor Party. Consequently I got interested in politics and it became part of my development.
In 1942 Harry Bridges visited New York. He persuaded my father to move out to San Francisco that fall to become the founding editor of the new ILWU newspaper, The Dispatcher. I was 13 years old and Bridges was fascinating. He had this supercharged, forceful personality, was very political and liked to talk about going to sea.
I went to sea myself in the summer of 1946, the year before I graduated from high school in San Francisco. World War II had just ended and the whole world was moving on ships. The first trip I made was on a troop transport, the Marine Jumper. I was a “utility man”—a pot washer and potato peeler. That first trip I sailed as a permit man. I joined the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards (MCS), CIO in 1948. The AFL and the CIO were still separate rival organizations then.
I really got involved in political activity around ’48. I met people in the MCS who were Communists. I’d read the famous Communist William Z. Foster’s big book on labor, including the 1919 steel strike he’d been in. I thought Communists were good trade unionists and felt that I’d like to work along with them.
In 1948 Henry Wallace ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Wallace campaigned for peace with Russia and got enthusiastic support from the Left. I handed out Progressive Party leaflets, went to meetings, signed people up on petitions and did anything needed to help Wallace.
The MCS officially endorsed Wallace, but late in the campaign I noticed all these MCS members wearing Truman buttons. That didn’t seem good. On election day Harry Truman, the Democratic president, upset Thomas Dewey, the favored Republican. Unfortunately for the Left, Wallace did poorly.
I was also involved with the MCS Pre-Strike Committee in 1948. The MCS was allied with the ILWU and struck along with the longshoremen that year. President Truman slapped on an 80-day injunction to stop the strike under the new Taft-Hartley Act. I went to sea on the General Gordon during the injunction. When I got back, the strike was on. I sold the CP newspaper, The People’s World, at all the picket lines that dotted the San Francisco waterfront.
In 1950 I was at sea on the President Cleveland when the Korean War broke out. This right-wing guy named Randall called a special stewards meeting. He attacked the MCS leaders because they questioned the war, as did Bridges. I got up at the meeting and defended the MCS officers by saying they had done a lot for the people and we should listen to them.
I made two trips to the Pacific on the President Cleveland. The second time I was “screened” off the ship when the Cleveland returned to San Francisco. Screening was part of the government’s McCarthy era program of denying employment to leftist seamen and even politically moderate maritime union activists. The program was administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.
While I was disappointed, I knew that the Coast Guard had extended its screening to the Far East, but not to the area between San Francisco and Hawaii. So I got a job on the Lurline run to the Islands. After the third trip about 15 of us were screened at once. We came down the gangplank and had our pictures taken.
The Coast Guard held hearings on Sansome Street in San Francisco to review screenings. I gathered six to eight stewards to come to my hearing. Some of them vouched for me. But the Coast Guard hearing officer just went through the motions.
I got involved with the Committee Against Waterfront Screening. Even though I was young, about 21, I was elected secretary. The committee chair was Albert James, a Black longshore leader from ILWU Local 10. We held our meetings at the MCS hall in San Francisco. People from the ILWU and other maritime unions came.
I did the day-to-day work for the committee. I’ve found through the years that whenever I got on a committee I usually became chair or secretary very rapidly. Generally this happened because nobody else wanted to do the work with as much devotion as me.
The big activity we had was a daily picket line at the Coast Guard headquarters. Every day I supplied the leaflet. One I wrote in early 1951 says, “Screening since July 1950 has denied thousands of maritime workers on both coasts the right to work.” Sometimes I’d have a whole leaflet on some individual case. I also wrote about various ships cracking in two to show that the Coast Guard was spending more time screening seamen than working for safety.
We kept up our daily picketing for months. Some of the screened seamen got longshore work. The dispatchers at ILWU Local 10 would call the MCS hall when they had extra jobs. For a while we even got dispatched out of the ILWU Local 2 ship scalers hall.
In 1951 I was drafted into the Army. I was sent to Fort Ord, California, for basic training. They had these “Information and Education” sessions, really political talks. This one guy described what he called the Communist conspiracy. He had a chart of this Communist octopus that was going after our country and Harry Bridges was a major portion of his talk. And I’m just sitting there.
I didn’t discuss politics and I did all the marches and all the basic training. But that October I got a letter from the Department of Defense that contained what they called “derogatory information” about me and my parents. One charge said, “Your father is a Communist who has been active in Communist affairs since 1935.” They gave me 30 days to make a rebuttal in writing.
I went with my father to the attorneys for the ILWU and we did make a response. Part of it said, “If it is the policy of the U.S. Army to set sons against their parents, I do not intend to follow that policy.” Finally I was given a questionable “General Discharge under Honorable Conditions,” although I had done every assignment the Army gave me. Some years later, after a class-action suit, they sent me a revised “Honorable Discharge” and told me to destroy the other form.
After the Army I came back to the Bay Area and started doing the same things I was doing before I went in. Over the next two years I worked for the Independent Ironworks in Oakland, but as soon as the day was over I’d go down to the MCS hall to see what was happening. I still went to meetings and volunteered to help the seamen.
In 1950 the MCS had been expelled from the CIO for its left politics. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) called a bargaining election in 1954, but removed the MCS from the ballot because the top MCS officers didn’t comply with the non-Communist affidavits then called for under the Taft-Hartley Act. To support their officers the members voted “no union.”
A new NLRB election was called the next year and this time the ILWU stepped in to appear on the ballot. The stewards voted ILWU. However, the NLRB allowed other West Coast unlicensed seamen to vote in the same election, burying the ILWU vote. During the campaign Bob Robertson, the ILWU vice-president, asked me to help with a stewards’ edition of The Dispatcher. I put a lot of effort into it, but all was lost due to the politics of the time.
In 1955 I decided I would like to be an ILWU ship clerk. I didn’t have a strong upper body, so clerking seemed better than longshoring for me. Emmett Gilmartin, the clerks’ assistant dispatcher, gave me a permit card. This saved me because the dispatcher, Jim Roche, did not like screened seamen. But Roche was on vacation. When he returned Roche dispatched me anyway, although I was not his favorite.
There were many types of clerk jobs in the mid-1950s. Every ship had a different amount and kind of cargo. Today most of the work involves containers. But the time I’m talking about was even before the extensive use of palletized loads and lift trucks, which became the dominant features on the waterfront in the 1960s.
In unloading 1955-style the clerk told the longshoremen where to put the cargo. A ship’s crane would unload sling loads of cargo from the hatch to the dock where they would be placed on a series of four-wheel trucks. These four-wheelers were attached to a vehicle called a “bull.” The bull driver would haul the four-wheelers inside the dock where longshoremen would grab cases and put them where the clerk instructed.
At times there would be a cornucopia of goods for us to sort. We used to have piles of boxes all over Pier 29 of various sizes and types. The dock would end up looking like a Woolworth store. We had to build aisles or put small lots of cargo back-to-back or put large lots in piles. You had to figure out how much space was needed and where to put things. If you did it wrong, everybody would come down on you.
A major part of the job was receiving and delivery of cargo on and off trucks and rail cars. A clerk supervisor at the front of the dock would assign an arriving Teamster to drive to a section where he loaded or unloaded. When a clerk received cargo he counted it carefully. Then he would chalk mark the pile, including his count and the name of the loading ship.
In 1955 Jim Roche was the power in Local 34. He was the clerks’ dispatcher who did not like screened seamen. Roche didn’t like Black people either and wouldn’t dispatch them. He was a baseball fan. He was known for bringing in White ex-ballplayers and dispatching them to jobs.
An opposition faction arose around Jim Herman when Roche got sick about 1960. This was when Herman emerged into leadership. He was very articulate, lined up a following and got elected local vice-president and then president. He made some dramatic changes, like seeing that a good amount of Blacks came into the local. I was in a lunch group that supported Herman in the early 1960s.
About this time I got active politically in the California Democratic Council (CDC). I’d left the Communist Party in 1956 after Khrushchev’s famous speech criticizing Stalin was followed by the Russian invasion of Hungary. That told me the Party was not going to change. I felt relieved by my decision, which actually came when the CP wanted to advance me toward leadership. Instead I joined the Young Democrats and then the CDC. In both organizations we backed the election to public office of up and coming candidates like Phil and John Burton and Willie Brown.
Around ’62 the ILWU set up its own political group, the West Bay Legislative Committee. Bill Chester was the chair. I was elected vice-chair because they wanted a clerk in the post. In the late 1960s I ran for election to the Local 34 executive board. I made it on the second try and served for 24 years, including 19 as chair.
Jim Herman and I were both from the MCS and had fought the screening program. We also both actively supported the farm worker union movement in the 1960s and that became the basis of our relationship. In the mid-1960s Whitey Kelm and Herb Mills of Local 10 started a five-dollar-a-month club in support of the farm workers organizing drive. I’d met Dolores Huerta, the vice-president of the United Farm Workers (UFW), and had been impressed. I joined the club. It lapsed and I started it up again. Herman was very helpful and the local gave me sort of an official status.
Starting in 1967 or ’68 Local 34 had yearly Christmas collections for the UFW. As the head of this effort I’d go around to every pier on the waterfront and collect money from the clerks and longshoremen. The overwhelming majority gave. This continued into the mid-1970s. We also had a monthly labor caravan that brought food and money to the UFW headquarters in Delano, California.
I was so involved with the UFW that I became kind of an honorary farm worker. During the 1970 lettuce strike in Salinas I walked the UFW picket lines. In the early 1970s I started putting in only 800 hours a year on the waterfront. I spent most of my time helping the farm workers. I was very close to the UFW’s San Francisco boycott house and volunteered many hours there. Often I would care for Dolores Huerta’s children while she led UFW demonstrations or spoke publicly.
During the 1971 coast longshore strike Herman called for a Local 10/Local 34 Joint Longshore Strike Assistance Committee (JLSAC). He said, “I want Watson to be the secretary.” That was it. Everybody agreed and I became the secretary. While the strike was on I went to a UFW rally in Sacramento. I asked Marshall Ganz and Jim Drake, two farm worker leaders, if there was a little something they could do for our strikers. They said, “I think so.”
The next thing I knew they put together this huge caravan, which was really a payback. This long grape truck came to the San Francisco waterfront from the Central Valley. There were several trucks from Salinas. They had all this produce. Maybe 150 farm workers arrived too. They visited the Local 34 hall and then went down to Local 10. It became a giant event.
This more than anything else made my waterfront reputation. I was the secretary of the JLSAC, and all of a sudden this help came, and it was on such a vast scale. It took hours just to unload those trucks. While I got the credit within the ILWU, the farm workers really outdid themselves. I was amazed.
Around 1975 I started doing a lot of volunteer research for the UFW legal office in Salinas. This returned me to an interest in labor history. I did research papers on fruit tramp shed workers from the 1930s to 1970 and on lettuce mechanization. I interviewed farm workers, union activists and growers and made presentations to meetings of the Southwest Labor Studies Association.
My interest in farm worker history led me to co-found the Bay Area Labor History Workshop (BALHW) in 1980 with a scholar and UFW volunteer named Margo McBane. I had little academic training and was working in isolation without much feedback. If you don’t have that, you need some kind of a forum for discussion. If you want something and there’s no organization, you go ahead and organize it yourself. That’s what I did, and the BALHW is still going strong today.
In 1978 I became the Local 34 delegate to the ILWU’s regional political arm, the Northern California District Council (NCDC). Four years later NCDC President LeRoy King asked me to take on the job of NCDC secretary-treasurer and this broadened to include legislative lobbying at the state capitol in Sacramento. I remained with these duties until I retired in 1993.
Although I’m thankful that ILWU longshore members and retirees have good medical and pension plans, others are not so lucky. We are all facing ongoing privatization, deregulation and tax cuts, along with growing state and national deficits, all of which hurt working people. That’s why I’ve decided to continue to offer my lobbying skills to help the ILWU program in Sacramento.