Port Workers Ditch Work, Slow Cargo Movement to Protest War

By: Alex Veiga AP
By: Alex Veiga AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) - West Coast cargo traffic came to a halt Thursday as port workers ditched work to commemorate May Day and call on the U.S. to end the war in Iraq.

Thousands of dockworkers at 29 ports in California, Oregon and Washington did not show up for the morning shift, leaving ships and
truck drivers idle at ports from Long Beach to Seattle, Pacific Maritime Association spokesman Steve Getzug said.

The longshore workers were expected to return to work for the start of the evening shift, Getzug said.

"There's no work happening so that means there's no cargo being unloaded and certainly being loaded either," Getzug said.

May Day is an international day of labor solidarity.

Longshore workers at several ports participated in rallies with other anti-war protesters, while a number of workers chose to make their statement simply by taking the day off.

In Seattle, several hundred demonstrators were joined by longshoremen for a protest march along the waterfront. Some protesters held signs saying "No Iraq War" and "Stop the war on immigrants and Iraq."

In San Francisco, dockworkers were among nearly 1,000 protesters
who staged a peaceful march on the waterfront, some carrying signs
that proclaimed the day a "No Peace, No Work Holiday."

"This war is like all wars," Robert Cavalli, president of dockworkers union Local 34 said at a rally after the march. "It kills the sons and daughters of workers."

The Port of Long Beach was quiet, with no sign of any anti-war protests or picketing. Local union officials said dockworkers opted
to hold union meetings.

Getzug could not immediately say how much the walkout would cost
employers or how many dockworkers failed to show up to work.

The West Coast ports are the nation's principal gateway for cargo container traffic from the Far East, with the adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handling about 40 percent of the nation's cargo.

During a typical day shift, about 10,000 cargo containers are loaded and unloaded from ships coastwide, Getzug said.

Longshore workers handle everything from operating cranes at port marine terminals to clerical work like coordinating truck cargo deliveries.

A total of about 25,000 of them work at West Coast ports. About 6,000 were working the day shift last Thursday, handling cargo from 30 ships coastwide, Getzug said.

Trucker James Laudermill, 48, spent the morning washing his truck and fueling up on diesel at a truck wash in the Los Angeles suburb of Wilmington after he was turned away at the nearby Port of Long Beach.

"I was trying to pick up a load this morning, and I was at the speaker and suddenly security came out and run us all out," he said, adding he would lose about $400 because of the walkout. "We've got work, but everything is on hold until tonight. That's a whole day of no work."

J. Craig Shearman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said shippers and exporters expected no significant, long-term disruptions from the walkout.

"This is something that happens every year," Shearman said. "Shippers and exporters know about it and plan around it, and we don't expect to see any significant disruptions from it."

Shearman said many longshore workers on the West Coast took the
day off last year to participate in immigration rallies.

Alfredo Jack, a Port of Oakland longshoreman from East Palo Alto, said union members' decision to stay off the job on May Day was part of a long tradition of protest among San Francisco Bay Area dockworkers.

In a statement Thursday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union defended its members' right to take off work to protest the U.S. war in Iraq.

"Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren't loyal or accountable to any country," said Bob McEllrath, the ILWU's international president. "But longshore workers are different. We're loyal to America, and we won't stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed by a war."

Port of Oakland officials said the absence of dockworkers had halted the movement of cargo on and off ships.

"There's insufficient labor at the marine terminals for the regular cargo operations to be conducted, so there won't be any loading or offloading of cargo today," said Port of Oakland spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur.

Outside, protesters walked picket lines to convince truckers to take part in the work action.

Union members voted during a caucus in February to take May 1 off to protest the war. Employers raised objections with an arbitrator, who ruled last week that such a unilateral work stoppage would violate terms of the longshore workers' contract.

Despite that decision, word continued to spread on the Internetin recent days of a May 1 walkout by longshore workers.

Employers went back to the arbitrator on Wednesday, armed with accounts of dockworkers at ports in Oakland, Seattle and elsewhere
telling supervisors they would not be showing up to work.

Arbitrator John Kagel ruled again in favor of the employers and ordered the union to tell members to show up for work.

Getzug declined to speculate how the walkout might affect ongoing labor contract talks, which began in March. The current six-year contract expires on July 1.

The union has maintained its members' decision to walk off the job was not related to the labor talks.

In 2002, longshore workers across the West Coast were locked out for 10 days over a contract dispute. The shutdown cost the nation's economy an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a day.
Associated Press Writers Gillian Flaccus in Long Beach, Marcus
Wohlsen in San Francisco and Manuel Valdes in Seattle contributed
to this report.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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