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We are the ILWU: Inlandboatmen’s Union, SoCal Region

ILWU - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 10:15

Editor’s note: The Dispatcher will be profiling ILWU Locals and Affiliates in the coming months. This profile of the IBU’s Southern California Region was the first one in the series and was drawn at random.

Inlandboatmen’s Union, Southern California Region

 

The Southern California Region of the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) represents approximately 200 members – plus an additional 80 “registrants” who are not yet union members but pay a fee to be eligible for work assignments dispatched from the hiring hall.

The Southern California region is extensive, covering 350 miles of coastline from the Mexican border to Morro Bay. San Diego was the IBU’s first Southern California local established in 1934, followed by the San Pedro local in 1935. Workers on water taxis, ferries, tugs, barges, and some kelp-cutters helped grow the union’s jurisdiction to include all unlicensed personnel, including deckhands, watchmen, bargemen, oilers, firemen, cooks and galley staff. The San Diego and San Pedro areas merged to become the Southern California Region in 1941-1946.

“These days, IBU members in Southern California do mostly tug work,” said Regional Director John Skow, explaining the tugs are involved with ship-assist work, marine construction, and fuel-barge transfer work. “We have a small unit on Catalina Island that works on the glass-bottom tour boats and also work on boats that deliver passengers to ships out in the anchorages.”

The work performed by IBU members is skilled and potentially hazardous. Workers are required to receive and maintain Coast Guard-certified training and credentials.

The process includes a mixture of “sea time” accumulated through on-the-job training, classroom instruction and passing rigorous exams. That wasn’t always the case, with requirements tightened after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that devastated Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The Coast Guard now has license requirements for every maritime worker classification.

“The job classifications we have in the IBU include captains who drive the tug boats, deckhands on the fuel barges, tankermen who deliver the fuel with help from tankermen assistants – but it’s mainly tug captains and deckhands,” Skow said. “It’s the best-kept secret in the harbor because you make good money – but it’s not easy to get those credentials and maintain them, although once you get them, you can make a good living.”

In the past, workers had limited options for schooling needed to enter the maritime industry. The California State University system operates a full-time Maritime Academy in Vallejo, but tuition is $7,000 a year and enrollment is limited.

San Diego’s Training Resources Maritime Institute in San Diego is a private company that charges over $1000 for their 5-day courses. Those under the age of 25 may qualify for an excellent 18-month program at the Tongue Point Academy in Astoria, Oregon, with free tuition, funded by the federal Job Corps program, but enrollment is limited.

To provide more opportunities, the IBU recently opened its own apprenticeship program in San Pedro with Coast Guard-approved training. The IBU’s apprenticeship school is a two-year program that provides mariners with the skills and knowledge to safely enter a marine industry career. They also offer classes for experienced mariners who need to renew and expand their credentials. The basic program involves 3,000 hours of on-the-job training, plus 420 hours of supplemental instruction and training.

“We noticed there were a lot of people older than 25 who signed up on our list with no experience,” said Scow. “Those men and women have a hard time breaking into the industry without experience, so we got the idea to start an apprenticeship program to give them a chance.”

Raymond Quintana, IBU member

I’ve been working in the maritime industry for 4 ½ years. I started out by doing 2 ½ years of training at the Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Oregon. The first year-and-a-half was through the IBU, where I got my AB (Able Bodied Seaman) and QMED (Qualified Member of the Engine Department). I did an additional year of school at the Clatsup Community College maritime program in Astoria, where I received my Tankerman-PIC, my 100-Ton Masters license, my 200-Ton Mate, and my degree in vessel operations.

After graduating, I signed-up at multiple IBU halls and was hired right away at Crowley’s petroleum fleet. I worked there for approximately 3 years, starting as a Tankerman Assistant for about two years, then became a Tankerman for one year.

During that time, I was living on board a tug boat for three years. We were doing month-ling hitches, working one month, then having one month off—approximately 28 days each. I was trained to work with oil and pump machinery. We loaded oil in Seattle and would take that all along the West Coast. I worked all over the Coast—Vancouver, BC, Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco, Coos Bay, Los Angeles, Alaska and everywhere in-between. I left that job to get hired out of this hall in San Pedro where I’ve worked with Harley Marine and Foss Maritime.

I’m the first mariner in my immediate family. I have one great uncle who is an ILWU Local 13 crane operator. Prior to becoming an ILWU member, he was in the IBU for ten years and told me about the union, which was what got me into the industry. My dad’s side of the family are all longshore workers and this was a way for me to do a similar kind of work – but also allowed me to branch out and do my own thing. You face all of the same dangers on a ship that are on a construction site. On top of that, you’re in the ocean and face added dangers of drowning, hypothermia, and heatstroke.

We also face hazards from lines. The newer lines are made with synthetic fibers that store a lot of energy when they’re under pressure. You have to be aware and alert all the time. A lot of major injuries happen when people feel comfortable.

What the union represents to me is a safe opportunity. There are plenty of non-union jobs out there. I have cousins who work non-union jobs and they’re always telling me how unsafe their jobs are. Safety can come in many forms. The industry is evolving and unions are able to protect workers from long-term hazards, not just short-term ones like slipping, tripping, or falling by installing non-skid protections.

Chances are you won’t go your entire career without getting hurt. When it does happen, you want to make sure it is something you can bounce back from and not something that leaves you permanently scarred for the rest of your life. The difference between something you can bounce back from and permanent injury can be as simple as wearing a hardhat or steel-toed boots. Something like that has to be implemented through policies. Another safety issue is work hours in an industry that’s as dangerous as ours. If you are not well-rested, mistakes can happen. Ensuring that mariners get adequate rest was not something that was always implemented, but because of the union, now it is. The union is there to make sure that you leave work in the same condition that you started—with all your fingers and toes. I’m glad I have this job with my union backing me up.

 

John Skow IBU Southern California Regional Director

I got started in the industry a couple of years out of high school when I joined the Coast Guard. I was always really interested in working on boats. I joined the IBU after ten years in the military. My first job was running a boom boat that deployed oil booms around barges. I loved that job and did it for five years before getting my tankerman certs. I did that job for about 20 years and worked on tugs too.

One of the significant changes I’ve seen in the industry it the reduced manning. That doesn’t sit well with me because they expect you to do more with less. When I first came into the industry, I can recall we had five men to a tug. And now we are down to two-person tugs. Now they’re experimenting with automated tugs. With the reduced manning, you wonder about safety. If you’re working and fall in the water, who’s going to come pull you out – the Captain who’s running the boat?

I’m very proud to be a member of the ILWU family. I have a lot of pride being a union member and officer. There’s a lot of hard-working people in this industry. There’s a lot of people who don’t like us, but I’m very proud of being a part of this organization because we fight for workers. We care about all workers, not just those in the IBU. Negotiating our contracts even helps non-union workers because it maintains the area standards.

Eric Bland, Tug boat operator

I’m a tug boat operator with Foss Maritime in LA/Long Beach Harbor. I work primarily the at THUMS Oil Islands. We service those islands with crew boats and tugs. The THUMS Islands are man-made islands that sit in the LA/Long Beach harbor. They were designed by one of the architects that worked at Disneyland.

They are off-shore oil rigs that are camouflaged to look like islands. The ones closest to shore look like condominiums. We run the personnel out to the islands. We also run equipment out to islands, drilling equipment and other supplies that are put on a barge and pushed to the islands with a push tug. That’s a 24-hour a day, 7 days a week operation.

Being a tug boat operator means you are running the tug, maneuvering the tug—you are the Master of the vessel. You are designated by the Coast Guard as the Master of the Tow and you are in charge of the marine safety of that vessel and personnel onboard. Everything falls on your shoulders. I started in the merchant industry in 1987 after coming out of the navy. I started in the working maintenance in the Alaska oil trade for 4-5 years before I found my way to the inland waters and the IBU. My first job with the IBU was at Catalina Cruises.

I’ve seen some changes in the industry for good and bad. It has tried to be more safety-conscious in many ways. We all want go home safe at the end of the day. For the bad, the industry has reduced manning to a two-person vessel and a lot of companies have a live-aboard situation which is not conducive to a safe work environment. When a boat is constantly running and a guy is off-watch trying to get some sleep or they are called up while off watch it can cause a lot of accumulated fatigue.

That’s one of the situations that probably won’t change until something happens. Until then, we will probably continue to work under fatigue. There’s a fix. If the company wanted to do the right thing for the workers in the harbor, the companies

could easily have a facility in the company’s yard similar to what the fire department has—where they could get off the boat for six hours and walk into a trailer with places for workers to sleep. That would be a better situation for them.

The dangers of the industry are real. In 2007 an IBU member, Piper Cameron was killed in this harbor. Her life meant something and that was a very tragic moment for our industry. Foss named a vessel in her honor.

The union continues to play a vital part in making sure workers are safe. It plays a vital part in protecting wages and jobs. I’m thankful for everything the union has done. I have been able to raise a kid and maintain a household because of my union job.

Peter Korody, IBU pensioner and former Regional Director

My first dispatch was in 1974, working at Catalina Cruises in Long Beach as a deckhand. My first dispatch was in 1974, working at Catalina Cruises in Long Beach as a deckhand. We carried up to 700 passengers. It was a seasonal summer job. In 1976, I was dispatched to a dredging job in San Diego on a dredge tender. I worked there for over a year. It was hard work, 8 hours a day, 6 days a week.

We were making at least $12.00 an hour and that was big money in those days. In 1980, I was dispatched to Foss, which was a steady job for me. I stayed there for about 12 years. I was active in bargaining contracts and served on the Joint Labor Relations Committee.

We had a lot of fun working on the tugs, going out to sea and doing all sorts of tows and harbor-assist work. We also did a lot of military work which involved target tows and supply runs to San Nichols Island out of Port Hueneme.

There’s a restricted area past San Nicolas Island where they occasionally practiced shooting missiles. We’d drop these old battleships and leave them there. Then they would tell us to come back to pick them up after the target practices.

Around 1988, the IBU went out on a 139-day strike at Foss over the manning of oil barges. In 1990, the tugboat I crewed on crashed into the dock and I was injured. I was on off-duty for about 2-3 years. While I was recovering, I volunteered at the hall and got the opportunity to learn a lot. I got involved with some of the organizing efforts that were going on.

I also participated in opposing the bunker fuel tax. The State of California decided to put a sales tax on bunker fuel and our work collapsed in some of the larger California Ports.

I spent many months going to Sacramento to convince the legislature to pass an exemption for bunker fuel.

I was elected to the union executive board in 1991. In 1994 I served as Chairman of the Region through 2002. In 2002 I was elected Regional Director and served two terms until 2008. Organizing new companies is the union’s lifeline. Being out on the waterfront is dangerous work. We worked hard and watched out for each other. It was hard

always having the employer trying to down-size our crews. The IBU has always stood out as a union that is based on serving the membership. It was a way a life and I had a rewarding career. I was lucky to meet the right people and the right mentors. Even in retirement, I continue to maintain friendships and keep in contact with people from when I was an active member and officer.

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President’s message

ILWU - Thu, 12/05/2019 - 15:05

The struggles that the ILWU is facing have brought us to a watershed moment. We’re moving through a difficult storm in the path of our union’s rich history and continued story. There will be painful conversations. A few of our opponents have even written obituaries for our union. But, rest assured, there are no funeral plans and the ILWU will survive this challenge. We must remain calm and focused.

Your elected officers recently spent several weeks in Portland inside a federal courtroom at an important trial with other ILWU and Coast Longshore Division officers, including International Vice President Bobby Olvera, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris, and Coast Committeemen Frank Ponce De Leon and Cameron Williams.

Our legal team mounted a heartfelt and robust defense against ICTSI Oregon, Inc. – a subsidiary of a Philippines-based company ICTSI Inc. – that formerly operated the Port of Portland’s container terminal.

Our lawsuit with ICTSI stems from a labor dispute between ICTSI and the union in 2012, when ICTSI became a signatory to a labor agreement with the ILWU but refused to assign all of the work covered by the collective bargaining agreement to ILWU-represented workers. The labor dispute was quickly decided in ICTSI’s favor by the NLRB and later in federal court, while labor-management relations at Portland’s container terminal worsened for unrelated reasons.

At the end of a two-week trial in Portland on November 4th, a jury decided a $93 million verdict against the ILWU and Local 8. The size of the jury verdict left us shocked, but worse was the mischaracterization throughout the trial that the ILWU does not care about the Oregon community or the Port of Portland. In fact, we are part of the community, and the men and women of the ILWU literally broke their backs building and helping to make Portland’s container terminal sustainable for years.

While we respect the process, we disagree with the excessive damages award, which supposedly compensated ICTSI for lost profits and some additional costs for a five-year period. It is our view that the award is not supported by the evidence, but based instead on speculation. The award is also several times what ICTSI projected it would make during that same five-year time period. Because we believe the jury’s damages award is inconsistent with the evidence, we will raise these concerns with the Court.

The Judge has responded to our concerns by postponing entry of judgment on the verdict so we can have the opportunity to tell the Court why we believe the verdict is not supported by the evidence offered at trial. That process is now underway, but the Judge will not rule on the post-trial motions until February at the earliest.

Since early November, the International Officers and the ILWU Coast Longshore Division Coast Committee Officers have been consulting and sharing information with other union officers and delegates. On November 12, International Executive Board Trustees and Longshore Division local union presidents convened separately to receive an update. On November 13 and 14, the ILWU Coast Longshore Caucus delegates gathered to discuss the outcome of the trial and next steps. In both cases, the discussion was positive, underscoring our solidarity and resolve.

We’re hoping that the Court will review the verdict and explore a different outcome – one that is more fair and consistent with the evidence. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a possibility that we may seek protection in federal court to re-organize our finances under protections allowed by the federal bankruptcy court. While nobody wants to take this step, it may be the best way to protect the ILWU and to allow us to return to sound financial footing as quickly as possible.

If that step is necessary, and we hope it won’t be, your union will continue helping new members and ILWU veterans, just like we’ve been doing since 1934. As your President, I consider this my highest duty. We all have an obligation to protect this institution that was built by generations of working men and women who sacrificed to improve working conditions and fight for the working class, despite the numerous setbacks and obstacles encountered along the way.

The ILWU’s democratic decision-making process, including the International Executive Board and the Longshore Division Caucus, will help us make the best decisions possible. At the same time, we’ll be alert for any employer or politician who thinks they can take advantage of this temporary setback. Finally, I’d like to clarify and reassure everyone that your ILWU pensions, savings plans and health benefits will not be impacted by these legal matters. There will be no changes in your contracts or working conditions.

During the coming months, we’ll keep you informed as this process unfolds. I’d like to finish this section of the report by acknowledging the many messages of solidarity and support we’ve receive from unions around the world who contacted us after the verdict was announced. It’s a reminder that workers everywhere need to stand up, stick together and continue seeking justice. Let’s learn from this experience, redouble our collective strength in support of the working class, and keep moving forward.

Solidarity matters

I want to share another important event that happened last month. Most of us watched the recent United Autoworkers strike against General Motors from a distance because GM closed their West Coast assembly plants many years ago. I felt it was important for the ILWU to show our solidarity for these 50,000 autoworkers who participated in their largest job action since 2007, when GM employed 50% more union workers. That’s why I took a red-eye flight in October to Flint, Michigan, where I met Sean Crawford, a young, rank-and-file leader. He told me that generations of his family have lived in Flint and been active in the United Autoworkers. They were union members from the beginning, including the 1936-‘37 “sit-down strike” in Flint that inspired workers throughout the country and made GM a union company.

Sean and I spent the day in Flint, walking on picket lines and visiting the “Sit-Down” memorial where many workers, including some of his family members, are honored. We spoke with local union activists and leaders, young people and veterans. All of them talked about their union, the labor movement and the state of America’s working class. It was a chilly day, with burn barrels to keep strikers warm on the picket lines as evening fell. They stayed on those picket lines 24-hours a day for six long weeks, until the company finally gave enough for a contract that was ratified by 57% of the membership – although it wasn’t the contract everyone hoped for.

I returned from my day in Flint humbled by what those autoworkers were up against – and how bravely they waged their struggle against difficult odds, in an industry that’s been outsourcing hundreds of thousands of good-paying union jobs to plants in China, Mexico and “right-to-work-for-less” states in the southern U.S.

But that’s not all – they’re also facing robots. The auto industry was using 127,000 robots in 2016, and certainly has more today. To their credit, the United Autoworkers has responded, in part, by undertaking organizing campaigns to help autoworkers in southern states join the union. Those campaigns have faced brutal opposition from the auto industry and politicians who hate unions, but the United Autoworkers hasn’t given up.

Clearly, we are facing challenges. There is pain, but we will survive. Your ILWU officers, attorneys and staff are grinding away each day, turning over every stone and fighting every inch of the way, regardless of the ups and downs, to ensure that we survive and get stronger with each challenge. Remain calm and focused. The ILWU will continue as a symbol of hope for working men, women and families all over the world.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

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