Shovels broke ground on Friday, July 13 for a new dispatch hall that was first proposed almost 20 years ago to serve Local 13 members in Wilmington. The new building will be a first-class facility with 32,000 square-feet and a host of modern features.
“This new hall will be good for the port, good for the industry and good for ILWU members,” said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, who celebrated the groundbreaking with other International officers including Vice Presidents Ray Familathe and Wesley Furtado, Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams, and Coast Committeemen Ray Ortiz, Jr., and Leal Sundet.
Local 13 President Joe Cortez delivered an emotional “thank you” to the many leaders who spent more than a decade pushing the project forward. “There are a lot of people who deserve credit for making this dream into a reality,” said Cortez as he thanked members for transforming the project from a dream to reality.
If all goes well during construction process, the new hall could be up and running in a year, dispatching the Local’s 7,000 registered longshore workers to jobs at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
In addition to the primary dispatch mission, the facility will feature meeting rooms, administrative offices and ample parking. The current dispatch hall is hampered by only 49 parking spaces; the new one will accommodate over 800 cars and be protected by a security fence.
Funded by the PMA
The new facility will cost million to build on a site furnished by the Port of Los Angeles, under a long-term lease. Funding for the construction is being provided by 72 shipping companies who belong to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). PMA President Jim McKenna was on hand to celebrate the groundbreaking and emphasize the joint effort that made it possible.
Leaders praise new hall
Former International President Dave Arian, who now serves as Vice President of LA’s Harbor Commission, was Master of Ceremonies at the event. He praised McEllrath and McKenna for helping make the project possible by providing leadership to move things along, and asked Local 13 member and Senior Pastor Leon Dool to open with an invocation that reminded everyone to honor the “blood that’s been given in the waterfront struggles.”
A host of local politicians were on hand to lend their support, including Congressmembers Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, State Senators Ted Lieu and Rod Wright staffer Bill Orton, Assemblymembers Isadore Hall and Bonnie Lowenthal, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s staffer Steve Nutter, LA Council President Eric Garcetti, Long Beach Councilmember James Johnson, and Wilmington Mayor Lupe Lopez. Long Beach Port Commissioner and Local 13 member Rich Dynes attended and spoke at the event.
History behind ILWU dispatch halls
The current dispatch hall on Broad Avenue in Wilmington was built in the 1940s; it will be used to dispatch casual workers once the new hall is finished.
The ILWU tradition of union-managed dispatch halls was a key victory won through a series of bitter struggles, climaxing in the 1934 coastwise waterfront strike in which 7 workers were killed and many more seriously injured. Prior to that victory, longshore workers suffered under a “shape-up” system controlled by employers that included blacklisting, bribery, discrimination and favoritism. Employers tried but failed to eliminate the ILWU dispatch halls during the waterfront strike of 1948 strike that lasted 95 days.