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labor IBU Members Celebrate a Century of Progressive Maritime Unionism

Newly elected President Marina Secchitano marked the 100th anniversary of the Inlandboatman's Union with a pledge to continue its heritage of solidarity, organizing and resistance to attacks by anti-union companies or politicians.

From left to right: ILWU International Vice President (Hawaii), Wesley Furtado, ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris, IBU Secretary- Treasurer Terri Mast, ILWU International President Willie Adams, ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) ,

The Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) – one of the nation’s largest inland maritime unions and the ILWU’s Marine Division – celebrated their 100th anniversary and 24th Convention in Seattle on November 11-15.

The IBU’s history, accomplishments and struggles were highlighted at a Centennial Anniversary evening gala held inside Seattle’s spectacular Museum of Flight. Over 250 union members and industry officials mingled among the exhibits of historic and modern aircraft. The IBU’s new President, Marina Secchitano, was introduced by the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, IBU Secretary/Treasurer Terri Mast.

Secchitano recognized many leaders in the room, including all four of the ILWU’s International Officers: President Willie Adams, Vice President (Mainland) Bobby Olvera, Jr., Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado and Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris. Other union leaders introduced included ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton, former IBU Presidents Alan Cote and Don Liddle, along with former IBU Secretary- Treasurer Larry Miner. President Don Marcus of the Masters, Mates & Pilots Union was thanked along with Paul Garrett, Assistant Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia’s Sydney Branch. Many IBU employer representatives attended, including Washington State Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar, President Tom Escher from San Francisco’s Red & White Fleet, Bruce Reed from Tidewater on the Columbia River, Rob Reller of Manson Construction, and Black Ball Ferry CFO David Booth.

The official speeches were brief, including the ILWU’s newly-elected International President Willie Adams, who thanked the IBU for their 1980 decision to affiliate with the ILWU, and for the many contributions made by the IBU before and since. The City of Seattle prepared an official proclamation that was presented by Mayor Jenny Durkin’s office, honoring the IBU’s many accomplishments. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent his congratulations via twitter. Video testimonials from union advocates appeared on giant screens inside the museum, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a powerful union advocate and potential U.S. Presidential candidate who congratulated Secchitano for being elected President of the IBU. “This is the year of the woman, and your new leadership role is noteworthy and important.” Also joining via video was Washington State Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Seattle who sent her congratulations and best wishes to officers and members. The evening concluded with a video presentation highlighting the IBU’s hundred-year history and century of struggle for workers’ rights. The program concluded with a champagne toast – to another hundred years of militant, member-focused unionism.

Launched in dangerous times

The courageous group of Bay Area ferry workers who founded the IBU’s predecessor in 1918, the Ferryboatmen’s Union of California, did so in difficult and dangerous times. Unions and strikes were illegal. Seventeen states passed “criminal syndicalism” laws that allowed thousands of union members to be imprisoned and brutalized, including California, Oregon and Washington. Conditions got worse for unions when America entered the First World War on a wave of nationalism promoted by big business and politicians who used their warped sense of “patriotism” to attack union organizers as traitors and “enemies of the people.” Leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who helped workers in West Coast ports, lumber camps, factories and fields, were among those hunted down, jailed, beaten, tortured and murdered. Congress passed the unconstitutional Sedition Act in 1918, making it a crime to criticize or hold opinions against the war. Other earthshaking events during 1917-1918 included the Russian Revolution and mobilizations by women for the right to vote. These factors caused deep divisions within labor unions, as radicals were purged, jailed and killed – while many establishment unions turned their backs on civil liberties and some joined racist campaigns against “dangerous alien immigrants.” When the war ended in November of 1918, much of Europe was destroyed, 16 million were dead and another 75 million would soon die in the global flu pandemic. Most militant labor unions were exterminated or weakened – but the IBU managed to survive and grow in these difficult conditions.

Early focus on ferry workers

The IBU’s early growth was possible because so many ferries were being used to transport cargo, railroad cars and people around booming cities and ports on the West Coast.

Surviving by organizing

The union’s initial boom lasted little more than a decade. New bridges built during the mid-1930’s caused many ferries to be idled. The modern bridges were needed to accommodate an explosion of cars and trucks. In an ironic twist, many of the new bridges were funded by President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, which created millions of desperately-needed construction jobs across the country, but also caused thousands of ferry workers to lose their work. Roosevelt’s support for workers and unions was also enormously helpful when the union expanded beyond the Bay Area to help workers organize in the Pacific Northwest, where port cities in Washington. Oregon and Alaska had grown quickly from timber and mining. The union also moved to help workers organize in Southern California, especially San Pedro and San Diego.

Breaking with old limitations

The IBU’s dramatic growth was also possible because they expanded beyond their previous “jurisdiction,” that limited them to only help ferry workers. This narrow perspective was soon abandoned in favor of helping workers on tugs, barges and other vessels. Workers at fish canneries and processing plants joined in 1985, and most recently, environmental response workers. This new approach to jurisdiction was called “industrial unionism” and it gave the union a new name: the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific.

Search for a democratic partner

Over the years, the IBU has affiliated with different unions and federations, always searching for a democratic partner. Early on, they affiliated with the International Seaman’s Union (ISU) that was part of the American Federation of Labor. When the industrial union movement rose in the 1930’s, the IBU aligned with the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO), being the first west coast union to join that rebel group – doing so a few months before the ILWU. During the next decade they tried to avoid bitter conflicts between ILWU President Harry Bridges and Sailors Union of the Pacific President Harry Lundeberg. In 1947 the IBU joined the Seafarers’ International Union (SIU), but left in 1979 over objections to what were seen as undemocratic and unethical practices. The following year saw a bitter strike by Washington State ferry workers with leaders Don Liddle and Larry Miner jailed for defying a court injunction. That’s when ILWU locals shut down the Puget Sound in solidarity. The move that led to a settlement for ferry workers and affiliation with the ILWU.

Membership trends

IBU membership peaked at 40,000 before WWII. As the number of ferries continued to dwindle and anti-union laws took their toll, the membership levelled to 4,000 where it remains today. But the union retains the same democratic, member-focused, progressive spirit from a century ago. And ferry service is now making a comeback, with communities in Alaska, Washington and California recognizing the critical role that public ferries play in regional transportation plans.

24th Convention opens

On Monday morning, November 12, all the history and current challenges came into sharp focus as the IBU’s 24th Convention was called to order at the Edgewater Hotel, overlooking Elliott Bay on the Puget Sound. The convention was chaired by President Marina Secchitano. Longtime IBU Secretary-Treasurer Terri Mast announced that 45 delegates and 20 special guests were present. The guests included ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton who was accompanied by Local 400 Secretary-Treasurer Jason Woods and Liam Lumsden, a Young Worker and Local 400 Board member. Also attending was Sydney Branch Presiding Officer Paul Garrett, who came with Rob Paterson, Glan Munright, Trent Miller and Liam Burke, all from the Maritime Union of Australia.

Spiritual message for the union

Deacon Jose Deleon from the Seattle Seafarers Ministry offered a prayer and reflection on the IBU’s longstanding commitment to promoting justice and equality. Deleon said he was grateful for the opportunity to work so closely with the IBU and the ILWU over many years, helping crew members from the Philippines, China and other nations. These seafarers sometimes arrive to the West Coast on vessels with substandard working conditions. Deleon thanked IBU member Jeff Engels for coordinating work of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) on the West Coast with a talented team that includes Inspectors Peter Lahay in Canada, Stefan Mueller-Dombois in LA and Martin Larson in Oregon. Deleon praised the IFT inspectors for helping seafarers win many struggles for dignity, respect and better pay.

Joyful union noise

Next up was Seattle’s Labor Chorus, which came to celebrate the 100th Anniversary and inspire convention delegates to prepare for the hard work ahead. The Chorus performs frequently at picket lines, rallies and community events, with roots that include IBU members Scott Seramur, who was a founding member, and his wife Susan Moser, who performed at the convention. The Chorus started 21 years ago at the Northwest Folklife Festival where legendary union advocate and folksinger Pete Seeger promised to return and sing with the fledgling group if they became established. They did, and Seeger keep his promise.

IBU President Secchitano

IBU President Marina Secchitano was elected last December to become the union’s first female President. She joined longtime Secretary-Treasurer Terri Mast, making the IBU one of the few unions to be led by women leaders. Secchitano offered many thoughts about what could be accomplished at the convention and a vision for what lies ahead in the coming years.

Non-union tug threat

One challenge facing the IBU and covered by Secchitano was plainly visible just outside the meeting room’s large windows where a growing number of non-union tugs and barges now operate along much of the West Coast and Hawaii.

Big oil hurts union members

Secchitano highlighted the growing non-union environment by citing the recent change at the Port of Valdez, Alaska. Big oil companies in Valdez decided to replace their longtime union contractor, Crowley, with a large anti-union corporation from the Gulf of Mexico, called Edison Chouest. The new contractor has a history of mishaps, but still won a ten-year contract to provide tug assist and emergency response for tankers carrying North Slope crude through Prince William Sound, where a catastrophic spill in 1989 dumped 11 million gallons of oil into pristine waters and fouled 1300 miles of shoreline. “I recently visited those Crowley workers and families up in Valdez during the final days of their contract, and it was heartbreaking,” said Secchitano, explaining that the new contractor brought their own non-union workforce from the South instead of rehiring Crowley workers that included many Native Alaskans. She said the IBU has been trying to help the displaced workers find jobs at other union companies. Secchitano added that many small businesses in Valdez are now suffering because Edison Chouest refuses to “buy local” and support the community like Crowley did for decades.

Ferry workers get organized

Secchitano also commented on the challenges facing thousands of public ferry workers who were recently hit by the anti-union Janus decision, handed-down last year by the US Supreme Court. The Janus attack was financed by corporations who hoped the Supreme Court ruling would destroy unions by encouraging members to quit paying dues. IBU ferry workers in Alaska, Washington and California responded by educating their co-workers about the scheme through thousands of conversations. This approach yielded excellent results, with only a handful refusing to pay their share of union dues. “The member-to-member conversations you had with your co-workers made the difference and helped us stay strong,” said Secchitano. “We’ve still got more work to do in some areas, but we’re on the right track with this approach.”

Cheap oil hurts ferry workers

Secchitano described a special problem facing ferry workers in Alaska that has implications for all union members. Some Alaska politicians are trying to privatize the state’s public ferry system in order to break public unions and convert a valuable public asset into a private, profit-making investment for Wall Street. She said the threat has become more serious because falling crude oil prices are depleting Alaska’s state revenue that depends on oil taxes. She explained that declining oil prices and resulting budget shortfalls have many legislators demanding big budget cuts from public employees in Alaska, including ferry workers. Secchitano promised to help IBU members in Alaska fight back. She also praised efforts by Acting (Jan-May, 2018) Regional Director Darryl Tseu, who is sharing the valuable experience and relationships he has with many Alaska legislators.

Non-union on our doorstep

During a break in the session, IBU Puget Sound Business Agent Gail McCormick explained that his region’s largest tug companies, Foss and Crowley, “have the largest and most powerful tractor tug fleets with the best-skilled crews, so pilots tend to favor them, but the non-union and sub-standard operators are nipping around the edges and showing up more often,” he said, pointing across Elliott Bay where a non-union tug was visible in the distance.

Three of the biggest non-union tug and barge companies are Vane Brothers from Maryland, Edison Chouest from Louisiana and the Kirby Corporation from Texas. All three also have modern fleets, and are scouting for new work, in part, because low oil prices have forced companies to close down expensive wells in the Gulf of Mexico – and cancel support vessel contracts there.

Secchitano explained how she’s seen the growing non-union threat take shape on the West Coast. “When I visited Hawaii recently, I saw a big Kirby tug next to a Foss union vessel. Then back home I saw a Kirby tug in San Francisco Bay, which we hadn’t seen before, and I learned that it was heading up here to the Puget Sound, so we can see these guys are getting more serious about moving out west,” she said.

Secchitano ended with some important updates, the first of which involved the IBU pension which had an unfunded liability for many years but is now on a recovery plan that will restore the fund’s health over the next 11 years.

She also provided the latest good news about expanded ferry services in San Francisco Bay, where state and federal funding has supported a 14-vessel fleet serving four routes that carry 2.7 million passengers annually – with plans to reach 5 times that number in 2035 using 44 vessels. The new passenger ferries are the cleanest 400 passenger vessels in the world and can reach over 30 mph.

Secchitano ended by noting the untimely passing of Veronica Sanchez, a skilled legislative advocate who helped Bay Area maritime workers wage many campaigns for good jobs and better working conditions. She said Sanchez was a valuable ally of the IBU and other unions. “Veronica will be remembered for fighting many good fights with us, and we will miss her deeply.”

Greetings from Canada

ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton was invited to the podium where he congratulated IBU members for their century of progressive unionism. Ashton said he was representing 6000 ILWU Canada members, plus another 7000 affiliated members. He urged the IBU to continue their progressive tradition, warning that employers are constantly looking for ways to create division and doubt between workers. He cited the importance of welcoming everyone into the union, regardless of their gender orientation. “What matters is that we all bleed just like the next worker, regardless of how we look or how we choose to live.”

Remarks from President Adams

Newly-elected ILWU International President Willie Adams was the next speaker who began by recognizing the team of officers who accompanied him to attend the IBU Convention: Vice President for Mainland Bobby Olvera, Jr.; Vice President for Hawaii Wesley Furtado and Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris. “I believe that four heads are better than one,” he said. “All of us have come here to listen to you and offer our support.”

He also praised the ILWU tradition of operating in the open and encouraging members to ask questions – especially the questioning elected union officials. “We can’t be afraid to have members criticize and challenge their elected officers,” he said. Adams said the same principle applies to welcoming new and younger voices. “I’m excited and energized by what young people are doing in this union. We need to involve them, include them and listen to them.”

Adams said he was humbled by the fact that the IBU was founded in 1918, sixteen years ahead of the ILWU. “The IBU’s been around longer than the ILWU, which means we can learn from your history and experience.”

He also thanked President Secchitano for “having the courage to step up, lean in and stick her neck out to run for President. I look forward to working with you and your team,” said Adams.

He wrapped-up by sharing his concerns about the political challenges facing IBU and ILWU members, emphasizing the need to prepare now for a voice in the 2020 election. Adams noted the positive election results in November, with a record number of more union-friendly candidates who will control the U.S. House of Representatives. But he also reminded everyone that the U.S. Senate remains controlled by an antiunion majority – and added that Alaska’s new governor favors big business over workers and unions. “Those workers and others like them depend on us to help them organize and speak out,” Adams concluded.

Special guest: MM&P President

Don Marcus, President of the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union, opened by joking about the challenge of following Willie Adams to the podium. Marcus said the IBU, ILWU and the MM&P share a common bond; they are among the larger group of Maritime Unions who formed the Maritime Labor Alliance six years ago. He said the group plays an important role in building unity.

“We squabble today at our own risk. Non-union operators are no longer unchallenged and many are operating in former union strongholds. They provide their workers with half-decent pay and working conditions, but poor benefits and no rights on the job. I’ve followed several of your IBU organizing efforts that were thwarted by bad labor laws. Let’s remember that it took twenty years for union organizing campaigns to prevail on the Columbia River.”

Marcus agreed that the Janus Supreme Court decision has had a surprisingly positive effect so far, with most workers choosing to remain dues-paying union members. “About ten years ago, we had 40 percent of federal employees participating in our union – and today we have 90 percent. In our case, it happened because of one woman who took the effort to talk with her co-workers about supporting the union.”

Marcus said unions need to use a similar approach in the future. “We have to be part of the dialogue on automation, now that autonomous vessels are being designed and tested. We also have to keep challenging the hysteria raised against the Jones Act – misinformation being spread to otherwise progressive legislators, through propaganda efforts at the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, where they hate the Jones Act because it provides good wages and working conditions for union maritime workers.”

He concluded on a hopeful note: “the IBU and MM&P have a good record of working together and we need to continue that work, like we’re doing to help folks at the Washington State Ferries, and the new federally-funded ferries in San Francisco Bay, and similar projects up and down the West Coast.”

Convention work begins

After the opening speakers and other formalities were finished on the first morning, convention delegates tackled an ambitious work plan that continued until 9 pm. An equally rigorous schedule was set for the next three days, with delegates divided into two groups: A “Passenger Industry Caucus” and a “Freight, Towing & Environmental Caucus.” Delegates in the Passenger Industry Caucus began with an in-depth workshop to analyze “lessons learned” from the Janus experience, led by veteran union trainer and economist, Mark Brenner from the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center. His skillful facilitation encouraged the room to explode with conversations as delegates compiled and shared their “best practices” and “mistakes to avoid.”

In a room next door, the Freight, Towing & Environmental Caucus began their meeting with an update from Coast Guard Lt. Chris Spring, who detailed the latest changes in federal certification and manning requirements for vessels. Delegates responded with many questions about the interpretation and enforcement of these safety-oriented rules administered by the Coast Guard. After finishing, Lt. Spring conducted a similar workshop with the Passenger Industry Caucus.

Automation hits IBU jobs

At separate sessions for the Ferry Caucus and Freight/Towing caucus, ILWU Canada President Rob Ashton and Local 400’s Jason Woods joined with MUA official Paul Garrett to discuss the hot topics of automation and cabotage. Ferry workers already saw automation replace jobs at Washington State and the Golden Gate District when automatic ticket machines replaced staff in kiosks. Now a new and different round of automation has created an immediate crisis for workers at Georgia Pacific’s paper goods warehouse on the Columbia River, where the company (owned by the Koch brothers) has just announced an automation plan that would destroy a majority of warehouse jobs. ILWU Canada’s Secretary-Treasurer Bob Dhaliwal has been tracking news articles about automation for years and provides them to ILWU members in a weekly email. The IBU will draw on information and experience from the ILWU and other unions in an effort to help warehouse workers and dozens of working families being hurt by the automation plan.

Cabotage

The word “cabotage” comes from the French and originally described coastal trading. It’s now become a legal term of art, referring to maritime trade between ports within a country. Almost 100 years ago, in 1920, Congress passed a law known as the “Jones Act,” requiring trade between U.S. ports to use vessels built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens. The Jones Act and other cabotage rules helped the U.S. build a merchant marine industry during the 1920’s. As time passed, the Jones Act protected good-paying maritime union jobs as global capitalism outsourced most vessels and crewmembers to countries with low wages, few regulations, no enforcement and weak unions. Corporations have been trying to kill the Jones Act since the end of the Second World War, and the fight continues.

“Every year, corporations try to attack cabotage laws in Australia, Canada, Europe and the U.S., and every year we have to beat them back,” said the MUA’s Paul Garrett. The battle in Australia became pitched last year, when the country’s anti-union/pro-business government announced plans to destroy cabotage laws. The latest threat is being battled with help from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global network of unions that includes the IBU and ILWU. Paul Garrett attended a recent ITF meeting in Singapore this past October, where Terri Mast was elevated to become the group’s Second Vice Chair of Inland Waterways, a post she’s using to create a new Committee on Tugs and Towing.

“These international networks are important, said Garrett, noting how coordination between unions helped the MUA win their 1998 Patrick’s dispute involving an Australian Stevedoring company that tried to break the union. The ILWU played a critical role in that fight by refusing to handle Patrick’s cargo.

Apprenticeship programs

Throughout the convention, delegates made positive comments about two seamanship apprentice programs initiated by the IBU. The first was established in 1980 at the Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria, Oregon. That program’s success over 38 years inspired Southern California’s IBU Region to recently launch a similar program. The Dispatcher has run previous reports on both programs and is planning future coverage. IBU Convention delegates agreed that the Tongue Point program is vitally important, and the union will be taking new steps to help educate cadets there about the role of maritime unions in their industry. One IBU member attending the Convention from the Bay Area was Aubrey Johnsson, who graduated from Tongue Point a few years ago and shared her valuable experiences with delegates, including how much she thought veteran IBU leaders and young cadets could benefit from more interaction.

The Southern California maritime apprentice program recently enrolled their first round of new cadets who are now focused on classroom studies. Efforts are underway to secure them field internships with union maritime employers.

Caucuses debate key issues

The Ferry Workers and Freight Caucuses both discussed state and federal legislation, along with political developments in CA, OR, WA and HI, including:

The Jones Act – This important law protecting union maritime jobs survived an attack last year by anti-union forces in Congress who falsely blamed the law for supply shortages in Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria’s $43 billion hit in 2017. Special efforts will be needed to reach a small but important number of progressive members in the House of Representatives who were influenced during the debate by antiunion myths and propaganda.

Environmental conflicts – Washington State delegates detailed their experience with a well-intentioned but deeply-flawed carbon tax ballot measure. It was defeated by voters – but re-opened longstanding tensions between the building trades and other unions over whether workers should take action to protect the planet from global warming, focus solely on jobs – or find a way to do both. One possible point of agreement is that workers should be protected from bearing the brunt of urgently needed changes.

This particular carbon tax measure was unintentionally drafted in a way that would have deeply cut the State’s Transportation and public ferry budget, making it a “no-deal” for the IBU. This painful experience highlighted the need for unions to be more involved with environmental groups so they can participate when environmental laws are conceived and drafted.

Industrial waterfront protection – Secretary-Treasurer Terri Mast opened this topic by noting that coastal cities must take steps now to protect their industrial waterfront lands or risk losing them – along with good-paying jobs. In Seattle, the IBU and ILWU are part of a successful coalition that joined forces with local business groups to protect Seattle’s working waterfront, especially in the South of Downtown (SODO) industrial area. The Mayor has since appointed ILWU member John Persak and Mast to a committee that will suggest solutions to save the City’s industrial waterfront.

Vocational training – In Washington State, the IBU has joined with vocational education advocates to see if they can require all schools in the state to provide a minimum number of vocational classes so working-class families can get training that leads to good-paying union jobs for their children.

Artic scramble – ILWU Alaska leader Dennis Young shared his efforts to monitor plans to route commercial vessel traffic through previously frozen areas of the artic. He described the aggressive scramble by countries and companies to enter areas that were unreachable until global warming began melting polar ice at an alarming rate. Besides opening shorter polar routes between Asia and Europe, he said companies want to drill for oil and gas in the outer continental shelf beneath the artic.

V.P. Olvera on Organizing

Tuesday began on a solemn note with a brief ceremony recognizing IBU members who passed since the last convention. Everyone stood in silence as names of the departed from every region were read into the official record.

Newly-elected International Vice President Bobby Olvera, Jr., thanked the IBU for inviting him to observe and participate at the convention, then quickly jumped into what he called “new changes that are coming to the ILWU.” He said the changes would include better communications, new education modules and a “return to our roots” when it comes to organizing. He said the officers recently held their first National Organizing Committee meeting and would hold more each quarter, probably scheduled before or after International Executive Board meetings.

He said there would be greater coordination with Hawaii, and a willingness to pursue long-term organizing campaigns that make sense from a strategic standpoint. “We talk a lot about solidarity, but don’t always walk the walk,” he said. “There should never be an ILWU campaign that doesn’t involve every ILWU local in a 100-mile radius, so everyone knows what the issues are, who the people are, and what’s at stake for all of us.” He closed by saying the ILWU can help “re-build the house of labor in a progressive way, by working with other progressive unions, including nurses, teachers and others who share our vision of helping the entire working class.”

Ferris urges courage and action

Newly-elected ILWU International Secretary-Treasurer Ed Ferris was next, and he began by challenging delegates to “search for opportunities among all the challenges we face, including hostility to unions from many politicians.”

Ferris continued, “We’re up against a wealthy and well organized ruling class that doesn’t care about the working class. So giving a couple of bucks to politicians during campaign time just isn’t going to cut it. We have to be more involved with our local communities. We need to promote social justice and environmental issues. We must reach out and embrace everyone with common concerns, whether its opposing discrimination in the LGBT community or supporting a neighborhood concerned about pollution.” Ferris offered his cell number to all the delegates and made a point of attending workshops and sessions throughout the convention.

Hawaii organizing

Veteran International Vice President for Hawaii, Wesley Furtado, greeted delegates with a warm “aloha!” then recalled his close relationships with all four IBU Regional Directors in Hawaii who have served during his 18-year tenure. Furtado explained his latest organizing effort involves securing first contracts for supervisors on the docks who recently joined the ILWU. The effort started in Hawaii, then spread to the mainland where supervisors in Southern California also joined the ILWU, despite management’s strong objection.

Furtado also explained how the ILWU’s longstanding strength and reputation in Hawaii has made them the “go-to” union when workers want to organize.

“We represent all kinds of workers from all kinds of backgrounds,” he said, citing a diverse list, including, “supermarkets, graveyards, hotels, spas, golf courses, agricultural workers, coffee, candy, beer distribution and more. The members include Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and more.” Furtado concluded by saying “mahalo,” thanking delegates before leaving the podium.

Organizing panel

The convention heard from two ILWU staffers who are responsible for executing the ILWU’s organizing strategy: Assistant Organizing Director Ryan Dowling who supervises the overall program, and Senior Organizer Jon Brier who is assigned to the Puget Sound Region. Dowling did a good job describing the ILWU’s current campaigns, including the effort to train and mobilize workers against the Janus decision that targeted public employees. Another campaign he explained involves hundreds of veterinary hospital workers – including some located in Seattle, with others around Portland and San Francisco. He also explained efforts underway  to help workers organize in the legal marijuana industry.

Jon Brier covered some recent IBU organizing efforts, including one to help fuel dock workers in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. He praised the effort by IBU rank-and-file organizer Adam Dalton who played a key role in the campaign by training workers, involving ILWU members, recruiting civil rights groups, and cultivating community support. Despite the hard work by everyone involved, flaws in the law allowed the company to eventually fire union leaders and decertify the union. Brier has devoted much of his time this year to helping public employees, including ferry workers in Washington State and Alaska, respond in a positive way to the antiunion Janus decision, by organizing member-to-member conversations to keep workers in the union.

Resolutions set policy

Much of the remaining time at the convention was devoted to drafting, amending and debating resolutions on a wide range of issues and concerns. (See the sidebar for a summary of resolutions passed by delegates.)

Next convention in 2021

Before closing the IBU’s 24th Convention, President Secchitano thanked the 45 delegates and 20 guests for their hard work and commitment. “Each of you came here because you care about your union and then spent the past four days contributing ideas and suggestions to help us do a better job. Thank you on behalf of all 4,000 IBU members for your time and effort.” The gavel then came down and the convention adjourned with a new course for navigating the next three years until the 2021 Convention.