Stoppage anticipated, so few major disruptions reported
By Ronald W. Powell
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
May 2, 2008
Dole Fresh Fruit Co.'s San Diego operation reported a loss of $316,000 because of a work stoppage yesterday by West Coast dockworkers protesting the Iraq war.
PAUL CHINN / San Francisco Chronicle
Port workers took to the streets yesterday after blocking several entrances to the Port of Oakland. Dole's report of losses, mostly in bananas, was the only one disclosed by local companies in the daylong protest, which involved thousands of workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle.
The work stoppage had a larger effect on ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle, which are the primary gateways for container shipments from the Far East and other foreign ports.
While the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle about 40 percent of the nation's maritime cargo, San Diego is a niche port that offloads few goods shipped by boxcarlike containers.
In Seattle and San Francisco, dockworkers picketed and joined anti-war protests. Workers from San Diego, like their Port of Long Beach counterparts, did not picket or hold protests but were gathered in a meeting of International Longshore and Warehouse Union members.
The National Retail Federation and other large businesses said the May Day stoppage was anticipated and caused few major disruptions.
For Dole, the protest by 40 workers from the union's Local 29 idled trucks that usually make 75 to 80 trips transporting fruit from the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal in downtown San Diego.
A barge carrying lumber was not unloaded during the day at the 24th Street Marine Terminal in National City, but a port spokesman said dockworkers returned to the job at 6 p.m. and began unloading the lumber.
The two cargo terminals are operated by the San Diego Unified Port District, and port officials said they did not anticipate additional labor problems today.
The protest occurred as contract negotiations between the union and the Pacific Maritime Association are reaching a crucial point. The association saw the protest as a warning shot that more job actions could occur if a new contract is not signed before the current six-year pact expires July 1.
The association said the union defied the ruling of an independent arbitrator, who said last week that the union should fulfill its contract and report to work on May Day. Union heads said workers had the right to skip work to protest the war.
“Shutting down the ports in defiance of the contract and the arbitrator's order in no way benefits an already fragile U.S. economy,” said association spokesman Steve Getzug. “We have a lot of serious issues to resolve at the bargaining table, and the nation cannot afford uncertainty about the reliability of the West Coast ports.”
William Silva, president of Local 29 in San Diego, said the job action was about stopping the war – not getting a new contract.
“Today's action is not about leveraging negotiations at all,” Silva said. “We're supporting our soldiers in the Iraq war – period.”
Silva said that he does not believe the job action will strain relations with the Pacific Maritime Association and that he is optimistic a new contract will be signed before the current one expires.
Ninety fully registered union members unload cars, lumber, produce, newsprint and other goods at the San Diego Port District's two marine cargo terminals.
They also service ships at the port's cruise facility on San Diego's Embarcadero, but none docked yesterday.
The union's total work force of about 500 people also includes about 80 workers who are in the process of becoming fully registered, along with part-timers and others.
None worked the 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift yesterday. Work resumed when the second shift began at 6 p.m.
Hector Estrada, local supervisor for Long Beach-based RWA Trucking Co., said he had 10 drivers who could not pick up fruit and other produce from the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal.
“They don't work today, so I'm not working either,” Estrada said. “We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens.”
Vons, which has 279 stores in California and 21 in the Las Vegas area, relies heavily on ports for goods and merchandise. “We've had no notable impact,” said Daymond Rice, a company spokesman.
Popham said relations between the Port District and Local 29 have been good, and he believes that will not change because of the protest. In 2002, when longshore workers along the West Coast were locked out for 10 days during a contract dispute, local dockworkers stayed on the job, Popham said.
“They came under tremendous pressure and probably would have been forced to stop work had the lockout gone another day,” he said. “Our guys here have been tremendous.”