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ILWU Canada honors the 84th anniversary of the Battle of Ballantyne Pier

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 09:20

Three generations honor Ballantyne struggle: from left to right, Skip Anderson (Local 514), Ricky Anderson (Local 500), Brock Anderson (Local 502),
and Brian Anderson (Local 514).

On June 18th, over 40 ILWU members, pensioners, and supporters gathered at the Ballantyne memorial at New Brighton Park in Vancouver, BC to commemorate the 84th anniversary of the Battle of Ballantyne Pier and remember the militant history of Vancouver waterfront workers. Recognizing the First Nations Joulene Parent from Local 500 opened the event by acknowledging that the event was held on the unceded land of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. “We make this recognition at all of our labor events because it is not just history, it is also about moving forward,” Parent said.

Kill a Worker, Go to Jail

ILWU Canada’s Second Vice President, Dan Kask served as the master of ceremonies. He drew attention to the recent 61st anniversary of the collapse of the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge which could be seen just across the river. Nineteen workers died during the accident. Kask then pointed out the banner behind the podium featuring ILWU Canada’s Kill a Worker, Go to Jail campaign. “The purpose of the campaign is to bring awareness to the short-comings of Industrial manslaughter laws in Canada and the lack of enforcement of those laws,’ Kask said. The crowd observed a moment of silence for the workers killed in the bridge collapse and for two ILWU members, Everett Cummings and Don Jantz who were killed on the waterfront in the past year.
“Today means a lot for our union,” said ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton. “It means we are alive and can continue to fight on. Those four letters, ILWU, have given generations of our people something to live for. And as we know in the past, it has been the reason why some people have died—not because they wanted to, but because they stood up for the ILWU. When we stand up for this great union, it means we stand up for the rest of the labor movement. We know what happens when you let your guard down if you relax from the fight—governments, police, and corporations will try and steamroll you even harder and faster. The only way we defend ourselves is with our strength and our solidarity.”

The Battle of Ballantyne Pier

Dave Lomas, Pensioner from ILWU Local 500, who has extensively researched the history of the battle, gave a detailed story of the Battle of Ballantyne. Ballantyne Pier was the site of a pitched battle between 1,000 locked out dockworkers and police in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 18th, 1935. The Battle of Ballantyne was a part of the long history of militant trade unionism by Canadian longshore workers and ultimately laid the foundation for the formation of ILWU Canada. After a decade of successful organizing and strikes by the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), the employers broke the back of the ILA during a 1923 strike and replaced it with a company union, the Vancouver and District Waterfront Workers’ Association (VDWWA). Workers eventually overcame this tactic by electing their leaders and forcing the union to address their interests and not the employers. In 1935 The Shipping Federation provoked another major strike in the spring of 1935 and locked-out workers at the port at Powell River.
The conflict spread to other dockers in the region. Vancouver longshore workers were also locked-out after they refused to unload ships coming from Powell River. Seattle longshore workers, in an act of solidarity, refused to unload ships coming from Vancouver and Powell River that were loaded by non-union workers. On June 18th, approximately 1,000 longshore workers and supporters marched through Vancouver towards Ballantyne Pier where non-union workers were unloading ships. The workers were blocked at the pier by hundreds of armed police officers. The dockers came under attack from the police and Mounties. Workers were beaten with clubs as they tried to run to safety, while many others tried fighting back, using makeshift weapons. Police attacked the union hall with tear gas where the women’s Auxiliary had set a first aid station. Several people were hospitalized during the three-hour battle, including a worker who had been shot in the back of his legs. The battle was a tactical defeat for the longshore workers, but they continued the struggle to form a union independent of the Shipping Federation, and in 1937 ILWU Canada was born.

Enduring lessons

The 2019 line-up featured several speakers who highlighted the enduring lessons of the Battle of Ballantyne Pier and the dockworkers struggle of that era. “It’s a bloody reminder that the rights we enjoy today are the result of tangible sacrifices made by working people,” said President Laird Cronk of the Vancouver Federation of Labor. “The themes of bad faith bargaining, union-busting, and employer intimidation—these are not just challenges of the past.” “Battle of Ballantyne speaks to the struggle that we go through every day, every time we bargain a collective agreement—in 1935 we saw what a conspiracy between the employer and government coming together to undermine workers looks like,” said Graeme Johnston President of the BC Ferry & Marine Workers Union. “We workers continue to fight in the streets, in the board rooms, in their union halls, to build power and fight back against the employer and to get the rights that they deserve.”

History lesson

President Stephen von Sychowski of the Vancouver & District Labour Council reminded the crowd that future victories are sometimes built on the lessons learned in defeats.
“Change could be delayed, but it couldn’t be stopped because longshore workers continued to fight and ultimately the demands of 1935 were achieved, and the ILWU grew to become one of the largest and strongest unions in our Province,” von Sychowski said. This theme is echoed in the musical, The Battle of Ballantyne Pier, according to director Sherry MacDonald. “Lecture speaks to the mind, but drama speaks to the heart. In The Battle of Ballantyne Pier, you will see every day, average characters fall and get back up again and eventually become stronger for it and this is the story of unionism on the waterfront,” she said. Local 400 member and member of the Young Workers Committee, Kyle Knapton said the key lesson of 1935 was rank-and-file participation in our unions. “What can we take away from this? The only chance we have against the attempts to undermine our rights as workers is to actively participate in our unions,” Knapton said. “The youth need to step forward and get involved at meetings, in committees attend events and continue to fight for our rights that our predecessors gave their lives for.”

Categories: Unions

Long game strategy yields big gain for Bellingham port workers

Fri, 08/16/2019 - 09:11

Negotiating committee: (From left to right) Tony Flaherty, Bryson
Tripp and Nick Erb.

ILWU Local 7 Clerical workers at the Port of Bellingham have ratified a three-year contract that covers receptionists, clerks, accountants, secretaries, and operation specialists who work at Bellingham’s seaside port facilities and nearby airport until 2022. The Negotiating Committee was composed of veterans Bryson Tripp and Tony Flaherty – along with recently drafted member and natural horse-trader Nick Erb. Four years ago, Flaherty and Tripp represented the same group of workers and helped secure their last contract negotiated under very different circumstances.

The economy then was still under major duress and some port commissioners were indifferent and recalcitrant. So the bargaining team played the long game by developing a working relationship with the Bellingham community. Enter ILWU Lead Organizer, Jon Brier, who held several trainings and coaching sessions that helped the group discover their power away from the bargaining table. By organizing and uniting the group, Brier helped them identify their natural allies in the community, such as other labor organizations like Jobs with Justice, and in turn, amplify their power at the table with several very public displays of solidarity. With this larger base in the community and with generous help from ILWU retirees like John Munson, the whole bargaining unit soon realized they could punch well above their weight.

The results were better than expected, but still far from what was needed to keep up with Bellingham’s rising cost of living. Since that last round, however, Flaherty, Tripp, and other Port workers kept organizing, building new relationships, and participating in local solidarity efforts. They also researched the Port’s financial situation and gathered data on comparable jobs at other ports in their region. The organizing, solidarity and research paid off big-time in recent bargaining when they negotiated, and members ratified, an agreement to boost wages 18% over four years. Nearly half of the big increase is being delivered in the first year of the contract. Well done Local 7 – way to organize, unite, and fight to win the long game!

Submitted by IBU Puget Sound Regional Director Peter Hart and IBU Puget Sound Passenger Business Agent Ryan Brazeau

Categories: Unions

IBU Members Win Strike at Alaska Marine Highway System

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 11:45

Taking action: IBU members picketed the MV COLUMBIA in Ketchikan in late July. IBU workers on the Columbia, Flagship of the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet, were the first to strike this month – and the first to strike 42 years ago when the IBU was forced out in 1977.

By late 2018, the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific had been bargaining for 2 years to secure a contract for 400 workers at the Alaska Marine Highway System. The IBU represents the largest group of employees among several unions that represent public ferry system workers.

On February 19, 2019, the newly elected Governor released his proposed budget that called for cutting the ferry system by more than 1/3, along with slashing other public services in Alaska, including education, senior housing, and community medical aid. As the budget cuts were announced, a group of businesses continued talking about privatizing the public ferry system – talk that continues to this day.

In the last negotiations before the new governor took office, the State gave the IBU a “supposal” for a three-year contract which included 31 tentative agreements – contract changes approved and signed by both parties, along with wage increases of 3%, 1%, 1%, and raising workers’ share of health insurance premiums to 15%.

The State’s offer also included no adjustment to raise wages for crewmembers of the MV Lituya to help them reach parity with workers on other vessels. It also left intact a cost of living differential (COLD) that paid non-resident union members about $4 dollars less per hour than Alaskan residents – although the State agreed in principle to eliminate the COLD differential and boost the MV Lituya wages, but had not yet signed-off on those items. Members were adamantly opposed to approving a contract with higher health premiums. This made it impossible for the union to seek membership approval of the “supposal” package. The State responded by shutting down negotiations hours before the election of Governor Mike Dunleavy.

Background on health insurance

The State offers workers a choice of a standard plan or economy health insurance plans. Those who couldn’t afford the standard plan, which costs members over $350 per month, would choose the economy plan with high deductibles and more out-of-pocket costs, but no premium cost-sharing. When the state demanded IBU members to start paying 15% of the premiums for both plans, members were determined to fight indefinitely. They had also not received a wage increase for 3 years, so this proposal would have set workers back even further.

State offers a 1-year roll-over

When the IBU returned to bargaining under the new governor, the State offered a one year “rollover” of the contract, meaning no changes to the terms and conditions, no wage increases or health increases. We were agreeable to this idea – until they informed us that all 31 of the tentative agreements were now rescinded and off the table. They said we’d have to re-negotiate each of those in the next contract negotiations, a year out. They also made it very clear that there was no guarantee they would agree to the previously negotiated tentative agreements.

This was unacceptable, so we chose to continue bargaining our contract. We felt the State was only surface bargaining – talking with no real intention of reaching an agreement, so we demanded that they provide us with a written proposal by May 15, 2019. They responded with a written proposal that included a one-time lump sum payment of $1000 on January 1, 2021, to offset their proposal requiring members with the economy plan to begin paying part of their health premiums on January 1, 2021. The premium increases amounted to a $60 monthly increase for singles and $160 for a family, so the one-time lump sum would have a short-lived impact, covering only 6 months of higher costs for a family, along with the prospect of more increases in the future. The State “supposal” did include our proposal to increase the wages of crewmembers on the MV Lituya.

Union members vote

Our Negotiations Committee told the State that we could not recommend their proposal but would ask members to vote on it. I rode the MV Columbia as it traveled from Ketchikan to Juneau, to vote the members onboard. Patrolwoman Krissel Calibo flew to Kenai, then rented a car and drove to Whittier where she met the MV Aurora, then went to Homer where she met members working on the MV Tustumena so they could vote. All ballots were then brought to Juneau. Voting for crews on vessels arriving in Juneau were handled by Alaska Regional Director Trina Arnold and myself, who met crewmembers from the MV Tazlina, MV LeConte and MV Kennicott. We joined Executive Committee Vice-Chair Robb Arnold to vote the members of the MV Malaspina. We also offered an online ballot for the members who couldn’t get a paper ballot, including crewmembers of the MV Matanuska. On June 19, 2019, the votes were tallied, with members overwhelmingly rejecting the State’s proposal and authorizing the Negotiations Committee to call a strike.

Union goes into mediation

John Fageaux, President of ILWU Local 63-Office Clerical Unit (OCU), joined our negotiations team to lend assistance. We contacted the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, requested their help and went into mediation on July 15 and 17. During that process, the State agreed to increase the lump sum to $1500 and offered to include 3 of our 31 tentative agreements, but with no wage increases. After several rounds, the Union gave the State a “last, best and final” proposal – informing them we would strike if they did not respond. We waited until 4:00pm on July 17th and received nothing from the State. We left the meeting to vote our members on this new proposal and prepare for a strike.

Strike after talks broke down

Building public support: Sue Weller (right) is a member of the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) who works on the Alaska Marine Highways System that connects small communities throughout the nation’s largest state. Weller took time-off from her job to sign-up 73 supporters in Wasilla on June 25. The following day she continued the same outreach effort in Anchorage and Palmer. The state’s public ferry system is being attacked on two fronts; devastating budget cuts led by the Governor and a privatization campaign led by corporate and anti-union interests. IBU’s Alaska Region has coordinated campaign efforts to defend the public ferries, using the slogan: “Save Our System” – S.O.S.

When members voted on the State’s final offer, 86% voted to strike. On July 24, 2019, after the MV Columbia arrived in Ketchikan and passengers were offloaded, IBU Patrolwoman Krissel Calibo boarded the ship, and the crew walked-off with pride –marking the beginning of our strike at 2:00 pm. Then the MV Tazlina crew finished offloading in Juneau at 4:30 pm and Executive Board Chair Earling Walli boarded the ship and walked-off with the crew. Regional Director Trina Arnold and Earling then boarded the MV LeConte at 8:30 pm and did the same. Arnold met the MV Malaspina at 3:00 am in Juneau where the crew finished offloading then walked-off the vessel. The MV Matanuska was in the shipyard in Portland. Port Captain Staples from Ketchikan Central Office (KCO) sent word to the Captains to have each IBU member “sign or get off the boat or we are calling reinforcements.”

When the crew refused to sign, they were ordered to vacate the ship and walked-off at 2:00 pm on July 25. Columbia River Regional Director Brian Dodge met with the crew on the next day and helped them organize a picket line outside the Portland shipyard. The MV Kennicott arrived in Ketchikan on July 25 at 3:00 pm and Krissel tried to board the vessel, but State Troopers, requested by the Central Office, wouldn’t let her on the ramp.

The MV Kennicott crew had received an intimidating notice from Captain John Falvey, General Manager of the Ketchikan Central Office, the same notice that was given on the MV Matanuska, asserting that IBU members had to declare whether they were striking or working. He said those who elect to strike would not be paid and ordered the Captains to hand each member the notice. Krissel was finally able to meet the crew outside the tube, near the guard shack at the Vigor Shipyard, and the majority walked-off. The MV Aurora arrived in Valdez on July 24.

We had a phone meeting with the crew and they reported that management offered to leave them on the vessel with pay, but the following day they received the same “strike or work” demand letter, and members walked off the ship as directed by the union. The MV Tustumena arrived in Kodiak on July 24 and received the same demand letter.

On July 25, crew members walked off the ship as directed by the union. Unfortunately, it must be noted that a few crew members did not follow the union’s order to leave the ships. This internal matter will be taken up by the Alaska Region. On July 30, the State sent a letter to members notifying them that their healthcare coverage would end on July 31, if they remained on strike. In addition, the non-union, substandard Inter-Island Ferry Authority (IFA) was pushing to get the MV Lituya moved off the terminal so IFA could run their ferry from Metlakatla to Ketchikan, replacing our service. Southern California Patrolman Mike Vera called upon his friends and family in Metlakatla who joined our members to stand guard on the picket line. There was a tremendous amount of pressure from the employer on members. I am proud to say that IBU members didn’t waiver in their commitment. They were prepared to fight until we got a settlement. And they did so with pride and honor Regional Director Trina Arnold was similarly impressed with the solidarity she saw during the strike.

“It was amazing to watch some of the passengers of the MV Malaspina get off the ship and join our picket line in Juneau at 3:00 am. In fact, the public support continued to grow each day. The cars would honk and wave as they drove by. A taxicab owner lent us one of his cabs to get to and from town. It turns out he was a former member of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) who used to work with us at the Marine Highway System. People were dropping food off for our picketers up until the end of the strike. Members offered one of the passengers a room in their home because she didn’t have anywhere else to stay. I realize this was hard on our members, but I know we will all treasure the memories we have of the solidarity on our picket lines. We’ll be telling these stories to each other for years to come.”

Solidarity rallies were held on July 29, in Bellingham, Washington, organized by Terri Mast, IBU Secretary Trea surer, and at picket lines in Juneau, Ketchikan, Valdez and July 28 in Kodiak. Solidarity messages were received from Tlingit and Haida First Nations, the Master, Mates & Pilots, Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn., American Radio Assn., Maritime Labor Alliance, International Longshore Association, Sailors’ Union Pacific, Utility Workers Union of America, BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union, Maritime Union of Australia, ILWU International, ILWU Alaska Longshore Division, ILWU Local 200 Alaska, ILWU-PCPA Pensioners, ILWU Local 13, ILWU Local 63 OCU, IBU SF Region, Puget Sound Region, Hawaii Region, Columbia River Region, Southern California Region, Region 37, IBU Longshore, Nakliyat-ls – Trade Union of Revolutionary Workers of Land Airway and Railway workers of Turkey, Transportation Trades Department, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris. Sara Nelson, International President of Association of Flight Attendants- CWA, AFL-CIO, sent us a message:

“The last Alaska ferry strike was in 1977, but right now workers are standing together and stopping service until they get an agreement after years of negotiations. We stand with IBU and MEBAUNION @ MMPUnion who are honoring the strike in solidarity.”

Resolution and return to work

Beth Schindler, Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, stepped-in as we resumed mediation on July 27 and 28. We made some real progress, but then things stalled and she decided we needed a break. The outstanding issues were the wage increases, health premium sharing for the economy plan, and the remaining tentative agreements – which included many protections for members, plus the COLD differential for non-resident Union members.

By July 30, the political environment was heating-up. Coastal legislators worried that pressure was mounting to get the ferries running. The union returned to mediation July 30, joined by ILWU Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris. The State brought in an attorney, Jim Baird, from Chicago, who management had used in the past to get a settlement. We went around the clock trading proposals until 1:00 am, when we broke until 2:00 pm the next day. ILWU President Willie Adams and Vice-President (Mainland) Bobby

Olvera attended to show their support that afternoon. We went back into mediation and traded proposals until we reached a deal at 1:00 am on August 2, 2019. We secured all 31 of the tentative agreements, along with modest wage increases. We limited the premium share to a more modest increase that would affect the economy plan during the last 6 months of the contract, offset by a one-time lump sum payment from the State. We also reduced the non-residential differential by 20%. During our final 2 days of mediation, we had a solid picket line outside our meeting – with supporters who played drums and chanted – refusing to leave until we got a contract.

We heard them say, what seemed like thousands of times: “What do you want? A fair contract! When do you want it? NOW!” President Sara Nelson of the Flight Attendants, sent the following message to us on Friday, August 2, 2019, at 3:00 am, upon hearing we reached a settlement, “Way to go, BREAKING NEWS: Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) just arrived at a tentative agreement with Alaska Marine Highway. And I hear it’s a good one! Picket lines are coming down. When we fight, we win!”

A special thank you to everyone who assisted in some way with planning, strategies, political outreach, rallies, messaging and more. Most of all, thank you to our amazing members in Alaska, for without their continued solidarity and commitment, this could not have been achieved. We dared to stand up and fight back at this turbulent time in Alaska, we kept our focus on getting a fair contract and we won!

– Marina V. Secchitano
IBU President

Categories: Unions

International solidarity in the fight against automation and outsourcing (Video)

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 11:58

ILWU International President Willie Adams traveled to Australia meet with wharfies at DP World in a strong show of international solidarity for the Maritime Union of Australia’s fight against outsourcing, automation, and threats of job cuts.
“Actions speak louder than words. I came here to see the workers of DP World, that’s why I’m here. To support them and stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters. Because I’m a worker too, I know that feeling, I know what it’s like to struggle,” Adams said.
“My union, the ILWU, and dockers all over the world stand behind you. Stand strong, stand tall, be militant, unapologetic.”
Former ITF chair, and now senator, Tony Sheldon and ITF Dockers’ Section chair Paddy Crumlin also fronted up to throw support behind the workers.

Watch the videos below.
Categories: Unions

Book Review: A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis, The New Press (2018)

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 16:23

The assault on American workers by employers, government and the courts has increased recently, making it more difficult to organize and negotiate contracts, At the same time, sympathy toward unions from the general public has also increased – along with growing support for some strikes. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME makes it harder for public sector unions to collect dues. The court decision marked a 70-year effort by the National Right to Work Foundation to weaken unions, funded by billionaires who hate unions.

Their victory contrasts with the recent wave of teacher strikes earlier this year in West Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Kentucky. These strikes occurred in so-called “right to work” states, where workers in the private-sector have few rights and strikes by public workers, are illegal. These are the same conditions that existed 100 years ago, prior to the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.

A new book by historian Erik Loomis, A History of America in Ten Strikes, gives historical context to the current labor movement. The book is one-part introduction to labor history and one-part introduction to the history of America as made and experienced by the working class.

“The workplace is a site where people struggle for power,” Loomis writes, and his book places that conflict at the center for an understanding of American history. Loomis notes that work is one of the few experiences that tie people together. “Fighting for better wages and conditions unites workers across industries and generations,” he says.

Each of the ten chapters are framed around one major strike. The strikes are laid out chronologically, starting with the organizing by workers in the mills of Lowell, MA in the 1830s and 1840’s, that was led by women when America was beginning to industrialize—and ending with the immigrant-led Justice for Janitors campaign of the 1980s and 1990s. In between, Loomis discusses many of the country’s most famous strikes, including the Flint Sit-Down of 1936-1937 and the most successful strike in American history—the self-emancipation of the millions of enslaved people during the Civil War.

One could argue about which strikes are spotlighted and which are not—the 1934 West Coast longshore strike gets only a few pages. But these “ten strikes” are only a window that Loomis used to view the historical and economic context surrounding each strike. It is here that Loomis really shines by giving readers a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing workers and the complex political and social landscape that workers were organizing in.

For Loomis, workers are not mere spectators to history who are shaped by forces beyond their control. He sees workers as political and economic actors who shape the world around them, and Loomis does it without romanticizing the history of working class struggle.

Working class movements have long struggled with their own internal divisions based on racial, ethnic, gender and craft differences – which is a recurring theme in the book. While many of these divisions have been exploited by employers to weaken labor movements, Loomis notes that many workers and unions have willingly embraced and maintained these divisions. While exceptions exist, such as the ILWU’s push of racial integration in the 1930s, other unions openly supported Jim Crow segregation in their locals and promoted anti-immigrant legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Racist and nativist sentiments, lack of democratic practices and corruption have all worked to undermine the strength of the labor movement. Loomis doesn’t avoid this dark history, but shows how rank-and-file movements have risen to fight discrimination and promote democratic reforms.

Another theme that emerges in A History of America in Ten Strikes, is the importance of political action by workers in order to neutralize government-employer alliances. From the beginning of industrialization, employers have used the courts, legislature, police, military and private security and mercenary forces to crush strikes and unions.

“There is simply no evidence from American history that unions can succeed if the government and employers combine to crush them,” Loomis writes. The chance of success for labor struggle increases dramatically if the state remains neutral and doesn’t put its finger on the scale in favor or the employer. Loomis continues, “After decades of struggle, in the 1930s, a new era of government passed labor legislation that gave workers the right to organize, the minimum wage, and other pillars of dignified work for the first time. While employers’ power never waned in the halls of government, the growing power of unions neutralized the worst corporate attacks until the 1980s.”

Members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) would learn this lesson in dramatic fashion when Ronald Reagan fired over 12,000 air traffic controllers during an illegal strike in 1981. The crushing of that strike ushered in a new era of attacks on organized labor.

Ironically, PATCO had endorsed Reagan during the 1980 election, despite his anti-union record. Their faulty assessment ended in a catastrophe. Loomis is clear that politicians won’t lead the charge to protect workers. That’s up to the working class, who must take collective action to challenge employer power. Now we’re living in times like the 1920s with extreme inequalities of wealth and corporate power at the expense of workers. Loomis’s book argues that our only hope is to challenge this new “Gilded Age” by building inclusive, democratic unions that understand how the government can be leveraged to benefit the working class.

Categories: Unions

John Fisher, Jr. is still diggin’ the downbeat

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 15:37

Thirty-five years ago, Fisher was still working on the docks as a Local 34 Clerk while playing at San Francisco jazz clubs, including three nights a week at Pasand’s on Union street that featured music in front and Indian food in the back. He recalls columnist
Herb Caen being a regular customer who sat by the window with a cocktail and listened to their band, called “Classax.”

Thanks to the ILWU, I’ve been able to pursue my passion as a jazz musician with performances in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world.

Learning from jazz giants

My love for music – especially jazz – began at a young age. My Dad was a Local 34 Ship’s Clerk who drew cargo plans mostly at the Oakland Army Base in the 1950’s and 60’s. He would go down to Melrose Records in San Francisco’s Fillmore District and buy Jazz and Blues records. He loved Lionel Hampton’s Band. I remember learning to play jazz brushes to those old 78’s. The musicians who inspired me back then included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole. I took lessons with some of the great musicians and studied music theory. I still practice on my drums every day. I remember how nervous I was when I first performed on stage, singing with the St. Dominic’s Boy’s Choir when I was 7 years old.

Unions helped musicians

In 1969, I became a registered member of Ship Clerks Local 34. I put a second union card in my wallet a year later when I joined Local 6 of the American Federation of Musicians. The good pay and flexible work schedule on the docks allowed me to perform and tour with bands in the U.S. and Europe. When we played Bay Area clubs in the 1970’s, most of those venues had union contracts with good wages. There were so many clubs then in San Francisco with great jazz, including The Blackhawk, Both And, the The Jazz Workshop, El Matador and Keystone Korner, just to name a few. My band was at the Starlight Roof of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel for over 2 years. One especially memorable performance was a gig with the legendary trumpeter, Chet Baker.

Change in wrong direction

When I retired from the ILWU in 2007, I couldn’t wait to get back into the music full-time and play in my favorite clubs again. What I found on the scene was far different from what I left behind a few decades before. A “race to the bottom” had turned the local music scene upside down for performers.

Collective Bargaining Agreements for musicians in nightclubs had mostly disappeared. I learned that members of the Musicians Union found themselves struggling on hard times, just like other union beginning in the 1980’s – when President Ronald Reagan declared war on unions by crushing a strike led by PATCO – the Professional Air Traffic Controller’s Union. Unlike steel factories and auto plants, our music clubs didn’t move to Mexico or China, but musicians faced working conditions that were sub-standard and non-union.

Musicians barely scrape by

Jazz is still being played today in San Francisco for audiences in bars, restaurants, and coffee houses. But instead of getting paid union scale, musicians have to beg with tip jars. You’re lucky today to get a free sandwich or an occasional meal and a beer.

It’s not unusual for good jazz musicians to leave a gig with $40 or $60 in their pocket – and on an exceptional night, it might be $100 bucks. The Musician’s Union is still maintaining good contracts at large city symphonies and opera houses, but most of the smaller clubs and venues no longer have union contracts. Even the famed S.F. Jazz Center in San Francisco is not yet a union house – despite spending $41 million on a new building and raising an impressive annual budget from many large and small donors.

New tech benefits big biz

Another difference today is the way new technology is impacting the music industry. We have the ability to share our music and interact with loyal fans through live-streaming, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media platforms. We also have to contend with apps like Spotify that give away our music for free to the public with little or no compensation for musicians. Just like the rest of society, big corporations and Wall Street seem to be the ones who profit most from new technology.

Cool union project

One of the real bright spots that I’m excited about is an organization called “Jazz in the Neighborhood.” This group is lining-up local venues who promise to pay fair wages for musicians who perform there. The organization also raises funds to help underwrite those venues and ensure musicians will be paid fairly. It’s important to note that this project is endorsed and supported by the Musicians Union, because they recognize how important it is to help the larger group of unorganized musicians who extend beyond the narrow ranks of union members in the symphony and opera.

Fisher is now a veteran jazz drummer with five decades of performing under his belt. Flexible work on the docks allowed him and other artists to pursue multiple careers.

Jazz in the Neighborhood

In the Bay Area, you can support “fair wages for musicians” by patronizing clubs such as Bird and Becket in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, the Marin Outdoor Market, and Boutiki in San Jose. The Jazz School in Berkeley also has performances that pay fair wages by cooperating with “Jazz in the Neighborhood.” Check out their website and go out to see some live music in your neighborhood that also provides fair wages to the performers.

Health care & pensions for all

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many fundraising concerts I’ve attended or performed at to help great jazz musicians who are facing serious illnesses and crushing medical bills without any health insurance. As an ILWU Longshore Division pensioner, I share the same medical benefits that the active ILWU members do, and give thanks every day for the rank-and-file struggles and sacrifices that made it possible. I’m also proud to belong to a union that believes everyone in America– the richest nation in the history of the world – has a right to good health care and a decent retirement.

Groovin’ high

Because I belonged to two unions, I sometimes joked that “my pocketbook was in Local 34, and my heart was in Musicians’ Local 6.” Now, more than ever, I appreciate how the ILWU made it possible for me to continue my lifelong passion for music. So next time you see me playing on the bandstand with my fellow musicians, you’ll know why I’m smiling when we hit a heavy groove.

Categories: Unions

ILWU honorary member Paul Robeson memorialized at Rutgers University

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 11:26

New friends: Kendall Hall is head of the Rutgers African American Alumni Alliance.
She contacted the ILWU to support the initiative. The ILWU contributed to the
Paul Robeson Plaza memorial and International President Willie Adams sent Local
10 Pensioner Lawrence Thibeaux to attend the dedication. “I’m so grateful for the
chance to meet Lawrence and learn more about the ILWU,” she says.

One hundred years ago, a remarkable young man graduated from Rutgers University in the spring of 1919. At the time, Paul Leroy Robeson was only the third African-American allowed to enroll in the New Jersey campus during its 150-year existence. Robeson entered with an academic scholarship and left the university as class valedictorian. He went on to become one of America’s most celebrated and controversial public figures of the 20th Century.

Man of many gifts

Robeson achieved extraordinary success as a scholar. He was fluent in Greek and Latin, and had a command of classic literature. He was a two-time All-American athlete and gifted operatic and popular singer. He graduated from Columbia University Law School while simultaneously playing for the NFL. He astonished audiences with his knowledge of 20 languages and was a gifted Shakespearean actor. A devoted social activist, he was also an honorary lifetime member of the ILWU.

Despite all these and other astounding accomplishments, Robeson died in relative obscurity – due to the color of his skin and his unwavering devotion to unions, the working class and dreams of a more just society – causes that made him a target for vicious attacks during most of his life.

Honors & praise

A century after graduating, Robeson’s accomplishments and struggles were finally honored on April 12, 2019, with the dedication of “Paul Robeson Plaza” at the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, NJ. The ILWU joined other organizations and individuals who donated funds for the project that features panels of black granite, etched with descriptions of Robeson’s achievements – along with details of the many barriers that he encountered.

“We want a new generation of young people to understand this great man who was unfairly pushed to the margins of history,” said ILWU Local 10 Pensioner Lawrence Thibeaux, the ILWU’s official representative who attended the dedication at the request of International President Willie Adams.

“Paul Robeson is among the greatest of the hundreds of thousands of Rutgers alumni – simply one of the greatest,” said Rutgers President Robert Barchi, who added that the University is now undertaking a painful but necessary examination of the many ways that centuries of racism have impacted New Jersey’s leading public university. Robeson’s granddaughter, Susan, also spoke at the dedication, noting that her grandfather surprised many by becoming more passionate about unions, social justice, and civil rights as he grew more famous, wealthy and accomplished as a singer and actor.

New generation steps-up

Seven-year-old Kristopher Dabrowski from Woodbridge, NJ views Paul Robeson Plaza on Voorhees Mall.

Perhaps the most important attendees were Rutgers students from the class of 1971, along with members of the Rutgers African-American Alumni Alliance. The groups pushed hard for the Robeson memorial, overcoming occasional resistance, and raising money for the effort. Former student leader Jim Savage, who Chairs the Class of 1971 Paul Robeson Milestone Project, played a key role, as did former student Claude White, who serves as the 1971 Class President.

“We hope Robeson Plaza will inspire future generations to take a stand against all forms of injustice,” said Savage, who is credited with conceiving the memorial and involving others to join the effort.

The power of Robeson’s legacy to inspire new generations was confirmed earlier this year when Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi told a Rutgers audience that today’s civil rights movement wouldn’t be possible without Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King Jr. “Robeson is so important because he paved the way for us to have a global perspective on our movements,” she said.

The man and his times

Robeson’s mother, Maria, was blind and died in a house fire when he was six-years-old. His father, William, was born a slave in 1845 and escaped from a plantation as a teenager. Armed with a fierce hunger for knowledge, the father secured two advanced degrees after the Civil War, studied and mastered ancient Greek and Latin, plus classical literature and philosophy – knowledge that he shared with his five children, including Paul, who was born in 1898.

Revolution and repression

When Robeson graduated from Rutgers in 1919, the world had just been turned-upside by the Russian Revolution in 1917 and First World War that ended the following year. The overthrow of an aristocratic regime by a new working class inspired Robeson and many Americans – along with millions around the world – to embrace the promise of a democratic state run by and for workers that would end racism, hunger, and war. The Russian Revolution also fueled a bitter backlash by conservatives and anti-union business leaders who feared something similar could spread to America. They launched a vicious crackdown on unions, civil rights leaders and socialists. The FBI’s J.Edgar Hoover rose quickly through the rank while attacking “the red menace.” During the same time, membership in the Ku Klux Klan exploded, along with lynchings and other horrors that the organization promoted.

Bridges and Robeson

Robeson recognized: ILWU International Union President Harry Bridges presented an honorary ILWU membership to Paul Roberson in 1944, recognizing his service to humanity and the working class.

Across the globe in Australia, the Russian Revolution inspired Harry Bridges who was just 16 in 1917. He left home that year to work at sea before entering America in 1920. Both men lived their entire lives believing that the Soviet Union was a beacon of hope for workers – and both paid heavily for their views during the Cold War. Bridges and Robeson were charged separately with being Communists, which was a crime until courts overturned the laws decades later. Bridges overcame three decades of government efforts to jail and deport him. Robeson was “blacklisted” from working on film, radio, television or theaters. His recordings were removed from store shelves and movies weren’t shown. The government revoked his passport and banned him from traveling abroad. When his travel ban was finally lifted, the FBI and State Department orchestrated a smear campaign to ruin his reputation at home and abroad.

Honored by the ILWU

In 1943, Harry Bridges led International Convention delegates and Executive Board members to unanimously grant Robeson a lifetime honorary ILWU membership for his “steadfast devotion and service to the cause of democracy and to the economic and cultural advancement of all peoples.”

Robeson was especially honored for his support of sugar cane workers in Hawaii who were organizing and joining the ILWU to improve conditions. Another ILWU honorary membership was granted at the same time to the famous artist and activist Rockwell Kent, who illustrated the first issue of The Dispatcher, in December 1942, and remained an ILWU supporter his entire life. Like Robeson, Kent was also persecuted by the government for his political views and had his foreign travel rights revoked. Kent later won a 1958 case before the Supreme Court that overturned the travel bans.

Persecution takes a toll

Decades of persecution, beginning before WWII, took a heavy toll on Robeson. In 1961 he attempted suicide by cutting his wrists while traveling abroad. His recovery took several months and was plagued by severe depression that was treated in Europe with heavy drugs and electroconvulsive “shock” therapy. He returned to the U.S. in 1963 where he lived in seclusion. He briefly considered joining the Civil Rights movement but refused because it would have required him to renounce his political support for the Soviet Union. A Carnegie Hall tribute was held on his 75th birthday that he was unable to attend, sending a taped message instead: “I want you to know that I am the same Paul, dedicated as ever to the worldwide causes of humanity for freedom, peace, and brotherhood.” He died in 1976.

“Everyone here knows that Robeson was a ‘renaissance man’ in the truest sense of the word,” said Lawrence Thibeaux. “He is remembered for many things, but we in the ILWU remember him for his elegant outspokenness on the rights of working people. Robeson may have achieved fame on many fronts, but for us, he is most famous for being a Union Brother.”

Categories: Unions

Workers win organizing victory at Pier 80 in San Francisco

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 10:34

Proof in hand: Austin Vann, who
works at Pier 80 in San Francisco, holds
the official NLRB document showing
a majority of co-workers voted to join
the ILWU.

Workers who prepare and process Tesla vehicles on San Francisco’s Pier 80 for shipment to Asia voted to join the ILWU in an election held on May 29 and certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in June.
The effort dates back to a more ambitious plan envisioned by terminal operator Pasha in 2016, when
Ford planned to import Mexican-built cars for sale to the U.S. – an effort that would have employed
80-100 workers. Poor vehicle sales killed the project after just a few deliveries.

That left Tesla as the remaining customer with enough business to employ 16 workers, including Austin
Vann, who served as an election observer for his new union. Workers have elected Vann and Henry Ormeno to serve on the Bargaining Committee, and they will now prepare for negotiating their first contract.

An effort by the Teamsters union to represent the same group of workers fell short when the votes were counted, as did an earlier effort by Teamster officials who arranged for Pasha workers from San Diego to
pose as San Francisco employees. The Teamsters backed-down from that strategy after the ILWU filed charges with the NLRB.

Categories: Unions

ILWU Canada longshore workers reach tentative contract agreement

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 09:55

Tentative Agreement: ILWU Canada longshore workers reached a tentative agreement with the British Columbia Maritime Employers’ Association after a brief lockout on May 30. The agreement will be now be sent to the ILWU Canada longshore locals for discussion and a ratification vote.

Eighteen months of difficult negotiations concluded on May 30 with a tentative agreement between ILWU Canada longshore workers and the British Columbia Maritime Employers’ Association (BCMEA).

The proposed contract covers almost 7,000 dockworkers employed at Vancouver, Prince Rupert and other ports.

The settlement followed an all-night negotiating session and early morning employer lockout that was imposed by the BCMEA. Employers closed the nation’s west coast ports for the day shift, but operations resumed that night. ILWU picket lines lasted between five minutes to three hours, depending on the location.

“Reaching this agreement required discipline and unity from the membership, and they delivered on both,” said ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton, who also thanked the Negotiating Committee for their hard work and determination.

Details of the agreement won’t be released until a ratification vote later this month, but Ashton said the package included what he described as, “fair language in the collective bargaining agreement around automation.” Ashton thanked the ILWU International and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) for their expressions of solidarity, along with support from a range of Canadian unions.

As The Dispatcher was going to press, “stop-work” membership meetings were being organized atLongshore locals to discuss the tentative agreement and answer questions prior to the ratification vote that will be announced by the end of June.

Categories: Unions

Alan Michael Coté: former President of the Inlandboatmen’s Union

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 16:39

More than 100 union members, community leaders, friends and family came from as far as Hawaii, Alaska and Australia to Seattle’s Labor Temple on the evening of May 18 where they remembered and honored their departed brother, Alan Michael Coté, who led the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific for 12 years from 2005-2017.

The memorial opened with a moving prayer by Father Joseph Peters- Matthews of Seattle’s Seafarer Center, a project that provides domestic and international seafarers with support and solidarity. It was followed by heartfelt eulogy delivered by IBU Secretary-Treasurer Terri Mast, who worked closely with Coté. She fought back tears while sharing details of his life and efforts to lead the union through turbulent times.

Coté was born in 1957 in Renton, WA, 10 miles south of Seattle, where he was raised by parents Benjamin and Frances, along with his deceased sister Diane and older brother Steve – who attended the memorial with his wife, Carol. Steve told a story that won smiles and laughter when he explained how Alan’s notoriously poor eyesight was discovered long ago when his younger brother became briefly lost in the woods during a family camping trip – a condition remedied with eyeglasses and thick lenses that Coté wore for the rest of his life.

By all accounts, Coté was a curious and intelligent student with a gift for storytelling and negotiating. He once bargained a $5-dollar-a-week payment plan with a judge for a traffic ticket he received while hot-rodding when he was only 16-years old. Coté used his daily lunch money to quietly conceal the mischief from his parents. In college, he formed a network of close friends who remained in touch for the next 44 years. He met his wife Linda in high school, later reconnecting with her when she worked at one of Alan’s favorite restaurants. She invited him on a group camping trip where she was won over by his excellent cooking and quick wit. They married in 1993 and enjoyed 26 years together.

Alan worked as a personal chef on a yacht for several years before taking a job with Crowley Maritime in 1989 where he combined his love of cooking with maritime work. He quickly became active in the union and won support from co-workers who elected him to be a shop steward, then Bargaining Committee member in 1997. Two years later he was elected as a Towboat Patrolman for the Puget Sound.

In 2005, Coté, was elected President of the IBU where he served for 12 years. His leadership qualities, according to Terri Mast, included good listening skills and an ability to encourage talent in others – while allowing them room to operate with their own style – offering backup and support when needed.

“He was a man of his word and was trusted by both the membership and employers,” said Mast. “He was a good negotiator and bargained some of our best contracts.”Respect from both sides was confirmed by Lee Egland, head of Labor Relation for Crowley Maritime on the West Coast, who previously worked on tugs and towboats as an IBU member.

“Alan was firm but fair,” said Egland, who added that Coté would sometimes torture him with long lectures about meat cuts and other odd topics if it seemed the company wasn’t

responding to worker concerns during contract negotiations.

A spirited and uplifting musical interlude was provided by members of the Seattle Labor Chorus, including IBU member Sue Moser. Fellow IBU leader Jeff Engels, now West Coast Coordinator for the International Transport Workers Federation, recalled how he and Coté learned painful but important lessons from a long and bitter strike that the IBU waged against Crowley in 1987 – highlighting the need to organize growing numbers of non-union workers in the tug and tow industry.

“I ran for IBU President in 1999 and lost, then Alan won a few years later in 2005,” said Engels. “I didn’t mind Alan jumping ahead because we’re supposed to promote and encourage new leaders with talent – not hold them back.”

ILWU International President Willie Adams spoke briefly, but powerfully, at the memorial.

“I’m not here tonight as your President, but as a friend and union brother,” he said. “I first met Alan in 2005, and we saw each other regularly at meetings of the International Executive Board and other union events. Like many of you, I was glad to see him at the IBU’s 100th Anniversary celebration last November, here in Seattle, which was the last time that some of us saw him.”

“He died too soon, but made the most of his time here with us,” said Adams, who praised his leadership skills. “Thank you for sharing Alan with us – he made the labor movement, and our union, much better,” Coté made connections when he traveled and worked with other unions, often turning these encounters into political alliances and working groups. That’s what happened when he visited Australia and helped establish a sister-port relationship between Seattle and Sydney. Later he helped establish a Towboat and Tugboat Conference that brought together unions from different countries with common problems and employers.

A recorded video message from Paul Garrett, Assistant Secretary at the Maritime Union of Australia in Sydney, was played at the memorial. Garrett conveyed condolences on behalf of MUA members along with his personal gratitude for the opportunity to work with Coté, whom he described as a “great mate.”

Rob Patterson, Honorary Deputy Branch Secretary from the MUA in Sydney, appeared at the memorial in-person, saying, “when the news of Alan’s death arrived, it was a very somber day.

He always told us that he didn’t consider his work for the IBU to be a job, but an honor, to serve the membership.”

At home in the Puget Sound, Coté built similar coalitions at the local level, serving as President and Secretary-Treasurer of the King County Maritime Trades. In doing this work, he was honest about the challenge – while committed to the goal of building greater unity, no matter how frustrating the process could become.

Don Marcus, President of the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union, attended the memorial where he praised Coté’s effort to build unity under difficult circumstances.

He and Coté were instrumental in forming the Maritime Labor Alliance that provides a way for the ILWU and IBU to coordinate with other unions.

“Maritime Labor has lost a good friend and man of vision, intelligence and insight,” said Marcus who noted that Alan was frank and refreshingly down-to-earth.

“He was at home in a tugboat galley or the halls of Congress, where he always wore a plaid flannel shirt and didn’t hesitate to speak his mind to members of Congress.”

Coté’s willingness to speak honestly about problems was also evident at meetings of the ILWU International Executive Board, where he served from 2006-2017. His reports and comments were refreshingly frank and he willingly shared difficult decisions facing the IBU for which there were no easy answers.

ILWU Canada’s Local 400 Secretary-Treasurer Jason Woods said his union and the IBU have shared some similar history, employers and struggles over the years. He noted that Local 400 is mentioned in the IBU Constitution because of their similarities and solidarity, and felt fortunate to have shared many meaningful conversations and meetings with Coté.

The loss of Cote’s wife, Linda, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2018, was a devastating blow that left him heartbroken, and his adjustment to a new life after serving in the union so long, seemed difficult.

A favorite project of Coté’s was the Tongue Point Maritime Academy in Astoria Oregon, where young people – often from challenging backgrounds – receive expert, practical training to secure good jobs in the maritime industry. Seamanship Instructor Mike Sasso explained how Alan sometimes talked about teaching a cooking class one day at the Academy. One project that is being realized is the Academy’s construction of a 1/35th scale model tug and barge – large enough to teach students the dynamics of tug and tow vessel operations. Sasso said the new vessel will be named the “Alan Coté.”

IBU poet Jay Ubelhart from the Puget Sound Region help bring the ceremony to a close by reading a beautiful poem that he composed in Alan’s memory. Final honors of the evening were provided by IBU Regional Director Peter Hart, who invited everyone present to toast Coté’s passing by honoring his spirit of solidarity and devotion to the trade union movement, as 100 voices came together in unison, with the words: “Long live Alan Coté.”

The following morning, a smaller group of several dozen IBU members, friends and Coté’s family, gathered on a Washington State ferry that departed for Bainbridge Island. After crossing Elliott Bay, the vessel slowed and engines were idled, as the group on the rear deck placed flowers, wreaths and Coté’s ashes into the placid blue water of the Puget Sound that he loved so much, “Goodbye Alan,” said his brother Steve, releasing the heavy steel ecological container of ashes that quickly plunged beneath the waves as a Crowley tugboat “danced” in circles and sounded its horn to honor the departed mariner and union brother, Alan Michael Coté.

Categories: Unions

Oversight, transparency, and accountability are priorities at Secretary-Treasurers conference

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:03

Practical lessons: Maddie King (left) and Jared Hueholt from Local 5 worked on a mock audit of a hypothetical union local. Participants applied the lessons they learned throughout the week in this group exercise.

A record 83 ILWU members, officers, and staff who oversee local finances attended the Secretary-Treasurers Conference in Seattle on May 19-24. The five-day training used a combination of interactive exercises and presentations from experts to help participants understand their legal and ethical responsibility to protect membership dues dollars. Topics included best practices for record-keeping, transparency, proper oversight, and democratic accountability.

Special guests at the conference included ILWU International President Willie Adams, ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Bobby Olvera, Jr., ILWU International Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado, ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris, Coast Committeeman Cam Williams, ILWU Canada’s Second Vice President Dan Kask, ILWU Canada’s Secretary-Treasurer Bob Dhaliwal, and ILWU President Emeritus Bob McEllrath.

Welcome from President Adams

Transparency is key: “Our responsibility to the membership is to be transparent,” said ILWU International President Willie Adams in his welcoming remarks.

President Willie Adams and Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris welcomed participants to the event that began on Sunday evening. Adams thanked everyone for coming to the training and for their dedication and commitment to the ILWU.

“This week you have an opportunity to learn, become engaged and take this information back to your locals,” Adams said. “The power of this organization doesn’t sit at the top of this organization – it is right here in this room.”

Adams spoke briefly about the many challenges facing the union with attacks by the employers in the courts and at the bargaining table.

“In our 88 years, we’ve been sued a lot, but always stayed focused on our work to represent members. We cannot live in fear. We have to take these challenges head-on,” he said. Ed Ferris said he attended the last Secretary-Treasurers Conference in 2013. “I sat in this same room, just like you are today. I left that training with a feeling of empowerment, and

that’s what I hope you leave with.

The goal of this conference is to go back to our locals with new skills to better serve them,” he said.

Going paperless

Team work: Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Farless Dailey (left) with Local 10 staff member Julie Chandler worked together on one of the group exercises.

During the conference, each participant was loaned an electronic tablet that provided access to all documents, presentations and other materials used during the week. The digital format saved time and money by avoiding the expense of shipping heavy documents, renting copiers and purchasing reams of paper

Oversight and transparency are key

Training sessions focused on the importance of open and transparent financial practices, so members can see that their dues money is being fully accounted for and properly spent.

This requires proper bookkeeping practices, documentation of expenditures along with constant oversight by Trustees who are elected by the membership. Locals were also encouraged to conduct periodic, independent audits by outside firms to verify that local finances are in order. The ILWU’s International financial records are audited each quarter – an exceptional level of oversight that is far more frequent than most organizations.

Local 4 member Lamar Stewart

Local 5 Secretary-Treasurer Ryan Takas said it was essential to have a ‘culture of paranoia’ with multiple people overseeing the books and redundant systems of checks and balances.

“It may seem inefficient to some,” he said, “but our goal is not efficiency – it’s the safeguarding of union funds.”

IBU Secretary-Treasurer Terri Mast was a veteran presenter at the conference. “I think the Secretary-Treasurer is the most important position in the union, she said. “Our responsibility is to make sure that we have proper controls in place to protect the members’ money.”

Hard lessons

The ILWU has a strong record in protecting member’s dues money from fraud and abuse. However, a few isolated instances have occurred, like in all organizations, where an individual tried to steal funds from local union members. Those illegal actions were eventually discovered and the individuals responsible were prosecuted, with funds recovered through restitution.

Instead of ignoring such instances or sweeping them under the rug, these rare examples were used as case studies to help guard against future abuse. Group discussions focused on shortcomings that enabled fraud to initially go unchecked until it was exposed.

Presenters reviewed new practices that have been put in place to tighten oversight of union finances. The conference also covered democratic safeguards, including the proper conduct of local union elections, laws regulating the use political action funds, obligations unions face as employers, bonding requirements for staff and officers who handle union funds, and proper management of current and archival union records.

Time out for solidarity

Touch one, touch all: ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris spoke at a solidarity rally with UNITE-HERE Local 8 members. Ferris strongly encouraged management to negotiate a fair contract with the workers at the Edgewater Hotel.

On Wednesday afternoon, the conference broke early so participants could march in solidarity with staff at the Edgewater Hotel, where the event was held. The hotel workers belong to UNITE-HERE Local 8 and are facing difficult negotiations to renew their contract. Workers want better wages to keep pace with rising costs in Seattle, lowering the threshold to qualify for healthcare benefits, and winning successor language to protect their contract if the hotel is sold. ILWU members joined a rally and informational picket outside the hotel.

Ed Ferris spoke at the event. “One of the reasons that the ILWU chose to hold our conference at the Edgewater Hotel is because of the excellent service provided by Local 8 members. Management should do the right thing and negotiate a fair contract with you,” he said. “Workers shouldn’t have to work two or three jobs just to survive.”

Willie Adams said that the officers would be expressing their concerns about the contract situation with the hotel management.

Valuable experiences

As the training session concluded, participants had a chance to reflect on what they had learned.

“The experience has been valuable to me,” said Local 51 Dispatcher/Secretary-Treasurer Don Lund. “Our previous Secretary-Treasurer was in the position for over twenty years. Even though I know what and how to do it, the conference has helped me understand why it’s important.”

Lund said his most significant takeaway from the conference was the importance of transparency. “Even though you know the books are right, it’s important that the membership knows that there’s nothing to hide and that their money is being properly spent and accounted for.”

Melanie Watts, Secretary-Treasurer for Local 142, Unit 4202, said she appreciated getting to meet and learn from ILWU members in every region and division with such diverse experiences. “We learned a lot of practical information and best practices to take back home and implement in our locals,” she said.

Commitment to education

President Adams said that the International 0fficers are committed to membership education and plan on having more frequent Secretary-Treasurers conferences. “Once every six years is not enough,” said Adams. “We should be having one of these every 2 to 3 years. Education is a priority for this administration. It’s about empowering the rank-and-file and growing the next generation of ILWU leaders.”

Categories: Unions