The Longshore Division Coast Committee, ILWU International officers, and Longshore Legislative Action Committee members and Pensioners gathered on May 20-24 for the union’s 2013 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. The goal was to convey the concerns of Longshore Division members to Congress in more than 50 meetings that were scheduled on Capitol Hill during the four-day event.
Among the issues discussed were the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund; transportation funding to improve ports and promote union jobs; opposing cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the Food for Peace program; port security issues including the troubled TWIC program (Transit Worker Identification Credential); international trade agreements; challenges facing sugar workers in Hawaii; and the lockout against ILWU members by the foreign-owned grain merchants Marubeni/Columbia in Portland and Mitsui/United in Vancouver, WA.
Discussions & speakers
Before lobbying on Capitol Hill, each day started with speakers and discussions. U.S. Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota attended the discussion on Tuesday morning to discuss proposed cuts to healthcare and the danger to civil liberties posed by TWIC and background check programs. Ellison Co-Chairs the network of pro-union representatives who belong to the Progressive Caucus.
Controversial trade agreements
A discussion of trade issues, including the latest round of pro-corporate agreements, was reviewed by Brett Gibson of the AFL-CIO, and Lori-Wallach and Celeste Drake of Public Citizen. They explained how the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal has been designed just like NAFTA to benefit big business at the expense of workers, consumers and the environment.
Representative Nick Joe Rahall of West Virginia was invited to speak Wednesday morning. As the “ranking member” with high seniority serving on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, he provided details about the Harbor Maintenance Tax Fund that affects ports and related transportation issues. Ed Wytkind, President of the Transportation and Trades Department of the AFL-CIO also joined the discussion.
TWIC & background checks
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Ranking Member on the Committee on Homeland Security, participated in a Thursday morning discussion about the TWIC program and how it raises serious civil liberty concerns. Also joining the discussion were John Schwartz of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Captain Drew Tucci of the United States Coast Guard (USGC), and Alex Mrazik of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Hot topics included the controversial TWIC requirements and recent failures of the program’s card-reader technology, and the Coast Guard imposed Security Zones established around locked-out grain facilities and grain ships in the Pacific Northwest.
After a week spent in dozens of discussions with lawmakers and staff, the Legislative Action Committee adjourned their 2013 meeting with a list of follow-up items that will be addressed by the ILWU Legislative Director and Assistant, including:
1. Addressing concerns that the pending Immigration Reform Act could include provisions that impact longshore workers.
2. Reaffirming the ILWU’s continued opposition to the failed TWIC program, and secure support from legislators who are willing to join us in questioning and opposing the program – including recent failures of the card-reader technology.
3. Closing a loophole in the Harbor Maintenance Tax that imposes fees on all containers arriving at U.S. ports – but exempts containers arriving on rail from Mexico or Canada.
4. Educating members of Congress about the lockout of ILWU members by foreign-owned Mitsui/United in Vancouver, WA and Marubeni/Columbia in Portland.