Longshoreman Union

Longshoreman Union

Longshoreman Unions are powerful organizations that look after the cause of their workers. A longshoreman is a person that works on the docks, doing all kinds of labor, primarily to load and unload cargo. It is not very easy to be a part of a longshoreman union. A casual worker at the port needs to find work consistently and get to casual longshoreman status. Once he is able to do that, he can apply to be a union member whenever the union is looking for more members. It may take multiple tries before a longshoreman is accepted into a union. However, once he is, things start looking up – the wages and work is much more consistent and benefits are great. The union takes care of its own and makes sure that their rights are protected.

Different countries have their own versions of longshoreman’s unions. For example, Australia’s version is called Maritime Union of Australia. The United Kingdom version is the British Dock Workers Trade Union. There are two major unions in the United States of America. The dominant one on the east coast is ILA or International Longshoreman’s Association. The major longshoreman union on the west coast is the ILWU or the International Long shore and Warehouse Union.

Longshoremen union got their start in the mid 1800 when the port workers started to organize themselves. The first union formed was called as the Longshoreman’s Union Protective Association or LUPA. The International Longshoremen Association has its roots in the Great Lakes region, where it was formed as Association of Lumber Handlers and then changed to National Longshoremen Association of United States. This changed when they joined the American Federation of Labor and finally renamed themselves to International Longshoremen Association after it started including Canadian longshoremen as members. Joseph Ryan was the first president of the ILA. The current president of the International Longshoremen Association is Harold J. Daggett.

The International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union or ILWU was started by members who were a part of the International Longshoreman’s Association. They were not satisfied with the agreement that the ILA had with its employers and decided to form their own group. The ILWU mainly represents port laborers in Hawaii, Alaska, British Columbia (Canada) in addition to the West Coast of the US. It also represents cannery workers in Alaska, hotel workers in Hawaii and book store workers in Portland, Oregon. When it started, this union was led by Jimmy Herman. The current international president is Robert McEllrath from Vancouver, Canada who was elected the first time in 2006 and again 2009.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) is a national trade union center. It is the biggest federation of unions in the United States of America and consists of fifty seven national and international unions. In all, it represents more than 11 million workers. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union was a part of the AFL-CIO until August 2013 after which, it separated. The reasons were numerous – the ILWU claimed that members of other unions were crossing its picket lines and nothing was being done by the AFL-CIO to prevent this. The ILWU also claimed that the AFL-CIO’s willingness to compromise on key policies such as labor law reform, immigration reform, and health care reform was another reason for its separation.

Both the ILA and ILWU are extremely powerful. As an example of the clout they hold, in 2012, ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach on the west coast stopped operating for eight days. Similarly, in 2002, the longshoreman union declared a strike. This was to preserve the health insurance benefits that they got, rather than for increasing their already high wages. This lockout lasted for about 10 days, and is estimated to have cost the United States economy about 20 billion dollars. The strike ended after President George Bush intervened and ordered the operations to resume.

Unions fight long and hard to preserve the rights of its members, most of whom do not have consistent work. However, in their zeal to do this, they may tend to go overboard and harm the port trade itself. Therefore, in today’s world, it could be said that a Longshoreman Union is a necessary evil.