On October 5th, newly organized ILWU members were sworn into Local 63 as part of an on-going campaign to organize the superintendents in the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach. Superintendents from Pasha, Eagle Marine Services (Operations Center), California United Terminals and West Coast Terminal & Stevedore were sworn in by Local 63 President Paul Trani. These members join Local 63 as part of the new Superintendents’ Unit. This was a historic victory for the ILWU.
These are the first marine terminal superintendents to be represented by any union on the West Coast. The ceremony took place at the local’s monthly “stopwork” meeting after several months of organizing and actions to help the superintendents unionize. Superintendents had become concerned as management increasingly treated them with little respect and required them to work long hours without any additional pay.
“The solution here was to help these workers organize and, at the same time, grow our union,” said International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe, who assisted with the organizing and negotiation effort. Familathe oversees the ILWU organizing program on the Mainland.
In order to unionize, the superintendents had to go through the traditional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process of signing cards and filing a petition with the Labor Board for a union election. This is a risky and intimidating process for any worker. It takes a lot of courage and grit to stand up to an employer and assert your right to have a union.
“These superintendents risked their livelihoods when they signed cards with the ILWU,” said Familathe. “These workers were at-will employees and had no dispatch hall to fall back on if they were fired. They took this risk because they wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families, and they’ve seen firsthand what having a strong union behind you can mean.”
The workers knew that the employers would vigorously oppose the organizing effort, which put them at greater risk. Familathe said that the employers threw everything they had at the superintendents to try to stop them from organizing. “They didn’t even want to let the superintendents vote on whether to become part of the ILWU,” Familathe said.
The employers hired big management law firms to challenge the superintendents’ petitions. To even get the Board order allowing them to vote, the superintendents went through days of grueling hearings at the NLRB in downtown Los Angeles. One of the hearings lasted 8 days.
At the hearings, many of the superintendents had to listen to their managers testify and then had to stand up and testify against their managers, with their managers sitting in the room.
The company lawyers put the superintendents through hours of grilling on the witness stand in some cases. Some of the company lawyers even tried to make it seem like the superintendents were lying under oath, but the superintendents did not bend. In every case so far, the NLRB Regional office has ruled in favor of ILWU Local 63 and ordered that the superintendents should be able to vote on whether or not they want to join the union. In every vote so far, workers have voted in favor of union representation.
The superintendents at Eagle Marine and Pasha, with support from the International and Local 63, have bargained their first contracts. The West Coast Terminal & Stevedore superintendents are close behind. These are stand-alone agreements between the units and the individual companies. Although these superintendents are members of Local 63, they do not work under the marine clerks’ contract and they are not part of the ILWU-PMA registration or dispatch system.
This organizing was the result of a team effort by the ILWU International Organizing Department, and the officers, staff and rank-and-file members of Local 63, said Familathe. Local 63 President Paul Trani, Local 63 Vice President Joe Gasperov, Local 63 Secretary Maureen Gutierrez, Local 63 Business Agent Cathy Familathe, Local 63 Business Agent Anthony Spanjol and rank-and-file members from Local 63 assisted in the campaign.