Mondays SF Chronicle had an OP/ED written by an ILWU longshoreman which took to task the fact the US government awarded a ferry boat contract from Pier 39 to Alcatraz - gasp gasp gasp - to a non-union ferry boat company. Where is writ that the government must award a competitive contract to a union company - solely because it is a union company?
I used the opportunity to point out a few problems with unions and the SF Chronicle agreed and published with affiliation. As you will note in the last sentence I took the Libertarian position that a freely formed association of workers is perfectly acceptable for bargaining for pay and benefits - it's the coercive nature of the legislated labor laws which are wrong and the forced union membership to get a job - the forced union dues - the truly asinine belief that once a group of workers gets union recognition at a business it continues forever and ever - encompassing all older workers and all new workers.
These two sentences were edited out for space requirements from the second paragraph:
In 1937 Harry Bridges formed the ILWU and explicitly forbade discrimination. Yet women and black laborers were discriminated against in both construction and public employee unions. Court orders and societal pressures forced open union jobs regardless of race and sex.
But the basic message still stayed.
The same old waterfront
Editor -- Jack Heyman's statements would be meaningful if it weren't for protective union legislation (Open Forum, "The challenge to labor," Dec. 4). Economic studies show the economic cost of protective union legislation over the past half-century is $50 trillion. Wages are generally lower for everyone because the economy is one-third smaller than if there had been no unions.
Unions use higher minimum wages to leverage increased pay for union members -- at the job expense of nonunion entry-level workers.
Unions have a place, with workers freely forming associations to obtain better pay and working conditions when they have free-market bargaining powers without coercive legislative interference.
RON GETTY, chair
Libertarian Party of San Francisco
The challenge to labor
- Jack Heyman
Monday, December 4, 2006
San Francisco has been a solidly union town since the historic 1934 maritime strike of sailors and longshoremen which turned into a citywide General Strike after two strikers were killed by police. The strikers' slogan then was, "An injury to one is an injury to all." Now, every July 5, "Bloody Thursday," West Coast ports close from the Canadian to the Mexican border to commemorate the six union members killed during the militant strike that forged the organized labor movement.
But is San Francisco still a union town?
For the first time since that 1934 strike, a nonunion maritime company has begun operating on the Embarcadero. Hornblower Cruises and Events, owned by Terry McRae, was awarded a 10-year contract by the National Park Service (NPS) last year to provide ferry service to Alcatraz Island. Some 50 workers, represented by the Inlandboatmen's Union (IBU) and the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union (MMP), with decent working conditions, wages and family health insurance, lost their jobs. They've been picketing, along with their supporters, at Pier 33 on the Embarcadero for the past two months, as McRae refuses to negotiate.
In response, the San Francisco longshore union voted to shut down all Bay Area ports and hold a stop-work meeting and mass picket in solidarity with its sister IBU local, which is affiliated to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). In 2003, the Los Angeles longshore union took similar action, shutting down the largest port in the United States and marching in solidarity with striking grocery-store workers. In 2000, when the jobs of Charleston, S.C., longshore workers had been taken over by a nonunion stevedore operator, they, much as the Alcatraz ferry workers, protested by picketing. They were attacked by riot police with many injured and five arrested. The ILWU went to their defense. Known as the Charleston 5 campaign, it became a cause celebre of the American labor movement and is one of the few shining examples of labor's power in recent years.
Much has changed since the days when a freighter's cargo was "hand-jived" by gangs of longshoremen or when ferries would carry passengers from Oakland to San Francisco. Containerization and bridges have changed the face of the waterfront.
One of the most significant measures of change, perhaps, is the integration of women into the workforce. Nowadays, the "first lady" in the Port of Oakland is a black mother who operates a container crane. And the regional director of the IBU is Marina Secchitano, who in the fight to defend her union and her members' jobs, refuses to back down in the face of corporate intimidation. Twice arrested by police, Secchitano is determined to achieve justice for her union members, who have been diligently working the Alcatraz Ferry since it began operations in 1973 and now find themselves replaced, like the Charleston longshoremen.
While Hornblower maintains a callous disregard for the lives of the workers who made the Alcatraz run into the success that it has become, the company portrays itself as environmentally conscious. U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilkins has ruled that the Service Contract Act, which requires a successor of a federal contract to pay the same level of wages and benefits as the previous employer, applies to Hornblower. But who today believes that justice can be achieved through government agencies and courts? Certainly not when judges rule that corporations can rip up with impunity labor contracts that provide for workers' pensions, health benefits and wages, as happened to workers at Bethlehem Steel and United Airlines. Some judges have barred workers from striking in response.
In this atmosphere of one-sided class war, if unions are to survive as independent organizations that represent the democratic will of workers, then they will have to exercise their power -- even if that means defying unjust laws. That's what the civil rights movement did in the '60s and the labor movement did before that in the '30s.
If nonunion companies, such as Hornblower can operate with federal blessing, then others will follow and the days of unions on the San Francisco waterfront are numbered.
Is an injury to one still an injury to all? If so, will unions take the necessary action? That is the challenge of organized labor today.
On the waterfront
Mass picket and rally to protest nonunion work on a federally contracted excursion boat.
10 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 9
Pier 33, Embarcadero,
Jack Heyman is a San Francisco longshoreman who likes to make waves by writing about the conditions of waterfront workers.