Over 200 ILWU pensioners, spouses and guests gathered in San Francisco for the 48th Annual Pacific Coast Pensioners Association (PCPA) convention on September 6-9. This year’s convention looked ahead to the upcoming Presidential election, discussed the need for single payer health care in the United States and learned about long-term care insurance. Delegates heard about the struggle by dock workers in Colombia for fair wages and safe working conditions.
On the convention’s second day, delegates demonstrated at a local Whole Foods store in solidarity with Sakuma Farms workers in Washington State who are fighting for union recognition and a fair contract.
In his PCPA President’s report, Rich Austin announced that he would not be running for re-election. Austin recapped his last year of activity – highlighted by 10 months serving as the pensioner representative on the Longshore contract negotiating committee. Austin said that
in 2013, the PCPA passed two resolutions that eventually made it to the negotiating table. The first was to increase benefits for people who retired prior to 2002. The other was to restore the Survivors’ Pension Benefit for survivors of pensioners if their marriage took place after retirement.
“We did pretty good on raising pre-2002 pensioner and surviving spouse benefits, but we need to do more work if we hope to achieve the restoration of benefits provision for post-retirement marriage survivors,” Austin said.
Austin also threw his support behind presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who is running for the Democratic Party nomination. “If for some reason he is not on the ballot next year, I will write him in. I will never again waste my vote on a free market, corporate-controlled neoliberal just because he or she claims to be a Democrat.”
Austin conveyed a central tenet of the PCPA; maintaining a productive relationship with the active\ ILWU members, the ILWU leadership, and providing assistance and support when called upon. Many active members of the ILWU know that pensioners are a valuable asset to the organization and provide consistent support through the PCPA.
The convention heard from several ILWU speakers, starting with ILWU International President Bob McEllrath on the convention’s first day. International Vice Presidents Ray Familathe and Wesley Furtado and International Secretary Treasurer Willie Adams also addressed the convention. Local 13 President Bobby Olvera Jr. and Local 94 President Danny Miranda also spoke and Local 63 President Joe Gasperov was in attendance.
Preserving labor history
Connor Casey, Labor Archivist from the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington, spoke about the importance of preserving the history of working people for current and future workers, historians and students. Casey told the delegates about the various resources available to individuals and locals to help them preserve important union records, correspondence and other materials that will be an invaluable resource in preserving the experience and voice of the working class.
Labor historian Ron Magden also spoke at the convention. He talked about his ongoing oral history project with historian Harvey Schwartz to record video interviews with ILWU pensioners. They conducted several oral histories during the convention. ILWU Archivist and Librarian Robin Walker and Schwartz led delegates on a Monday afternoon labor history tour of San Francisco. They visited important historical sites from the 1934 strike along the Embarcadero, toured the Jimmy Herman Cruise terminal and toured the ILWU International offices on Franklin Street.
Time out for activism
On Tuesday morning, PCPA delegated showed that their slogan, “Retired from the job, not the struggle,” is more than just words on a banner. Scores of delegates marched two blocks up to the local Whole Foods market for a solidarity demonstration in support of workers at Sakuma Farms in Washington State who are fighting for union recognition.
Farmworkers are promoting a boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, the label that distributes fruit harvested at Sakuma Farms. Over 40 pensioners along with ILWU International and Local union officers, including ILWU International President Bob McEllrath, International Vice President Ray Familathe and Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr, marched into the produce section of Whole Foods for a spirited rally. The demonstration was well received by shoppers who asked questions about the boycott. Rich Austin spoke with the Whole Foods manager who said she would raise the issue with her regional manager.
Jhon Jairo Castro, president of the Buenaventura chapter of the Portworkers Union in Colombia was the convention’s featured speaker. Castro has worked as a longshoreman and labor rights organizer for more than 11 years. He discussed his experience as an Afro-Colombian labor leader in one of the deadliest countries in the world for trade union activists.
Sixty percent of Colombia’s imports and exports pass through the port of Buenaventura. Castro told of the negative impact that port privatization and the US-Columbia free trade agreement have had on his nation’s workers, especially the Afro-Colombian community. Castro said Afro-Colombians make up nearly 90 percent of Buenaventura’s population who suffer from high poverty rates, unemployment and a lack basic services such as hospitals.
Honoring Rich Austin
The convention took time out to honor the service of outgoing PCPA President Rich Austin. ILWU International President McEllrath thanked Austin for his leadership and support for active and retired members. McEllrath presented Austin with a bronze hook sculpture crafted by Local 19 pensioner and artist Ron Gustin. After a motion by Local 13 pensioner Tony Salcido, the convention voted unanimously to bestow Austin with the title of PCPA President Emeritus.
Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award
Local 10 pensioner Cleophas Williams received this year’s Jesse and Lois Stranahan Award, an annual honor bestowed to an outstanding labor activist. Williams was the first African American president of Local 10 who served three terms in that position. Williams thanked the PCPA for honoring him and said he intended to remain active in the PCPA.
The transition to a new PCPA leadership team was reached smoothly on the final day of the convention. The new PCPA President will be Greg Mitre who has been heading the Southern California Pensioner’s Group. PCPA’s new Vice President will be Lawrence Thibeaux from the Bay Area Pensioners. John Munson from Bellingham will continue to serve as Recording Secretary and Christine Gordon from Southern California will serve as the new Treasurer.
The Executive Board will include Herman Moreno, Cleophas Williams, Jerry Bitz, Mike Mullen, Jim Davison, Maynard Brent, Michelle Drayton, Rich Austin and Tom Deusfrene with other Canadian delegates yet to be elected representing Canadian pensioners.
Adjournment until 2016 in Tacoma
Newly elected President Greg Mitre took the gavel and praised Rich Austin’s dedication, saying it would be hard to fill those shoes. He noted that next year’s convention will be held in Tacoma,WA from September 12th, – 14th and said he was looking forward to seeing everyone there in 2016.