The ILWU lost a kind and energetic young leader on May 17 when Alberto Bonilla passed with his family by his side, following a cardiac arrest that left him in a coma for almost a week. Bonilla was 43 years-old.
“Berto,” as he was affectionately known, was very active within the union as both a rank-and-file member and officer. He held numerous leadership positions at Local 13 including Dispatcher, Business Agent, Caucus Delegate, Executive Board member, and Coast Education Committee member. He became known to many beyond Local 13 because he served as Sergeant-At-Arms at many sessions of the Coast Longshore Caucus and was often involved in solidarity efforts to help others. He shared his love for the union with his twin brother Alonzo, and other brothers Nickolas and Jose Luis Rigo.
“Alberto Bonilla was truly a member who embodied everything we aspire to be in this union,” said Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr. “His spirit was bound in brotherhood and his contribution of countless hours towards the benefit of the union and his community is unparalleled. As a member he was exemplary, and as an individual he was a humanitarian. He will be missed by all of us at Local 13.”
Berto was extremely well-liked and respected, qualities that drew hundreds to his funeral. Among those attending were International President Bob McEllrath, International Vice Presidents Ray Familathe and Wesley Furtado, and International Secretary-Treasurer Willie Adams. ILWU members attended from locals in Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii.
“Alberto was a great friend of mine and he was always willing to volunteer and step-up for his union,” said President McEllrath. “We need more young leaders like him, and his loss was felt far and wide.”
“Berto will be missed as a friend and as a union brother,” said Vice President Furtado. “He embodied so much of what the ILWU is about. He fought to keep this union strong and was always there to lend a hand to those in need.”
“I think my husband always had a premonition that something was going to happen to him,” said Marla Piceno Bonilla, Berto’s widow and high-school sweetheart. “He would always tell our son that ‘someday this will be yours’ and he often took Junior with him to union activities.”
“My father named me after him for a reason,” said Alberto Bonilla, Jr., “I will keep his name going and his legacy continuing down on the docks. When I work there someday, I hope to be as good as my dad was because I have big shoes to fill.”
Written by Local 13 member Vivian J. Malauulu