John M. Bowers, who led the International Longshoremen’s Association for 20 years and negotiated a series of contracts credited with bringing labor stability to East and Gulf coast ports, died Sunday at his home on Long Island, N.Y. He was 88.
Bowers headed the ILA from 1987 to 2007 after serving 24 years as executive vice president under the late Thomas W. “Teddy” Gleason.
As ILA president, Bowers negotiated the union’s first coastwide medical benefits program. He negotiated new contracts or extensions months before previous agreements expired, and was proud that that the once-strikeprone ILA had no coastwide work stoppage under his presidency.
The resulting labor stability was credited with encouraging investment in cargo facilities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts while maintaining wages and benefits that are among the highest of any blue-collar workers in the nation.
“The ILA family and the entire labor movement today has lost one of its most outstanding and important figures…John Bowers helped shape this ILA into one of the most successful unions,” said Harold Daggett, elected last month at ILA president.
“I have lost my friend, my mentor, said Richard P. Hughes Jr., a close friend and ally who succeeded Bowers as president in 2007.
“The ILA and the industry have lost a true champion,” said James Capo, CEO of United States Maritime Alliance, which represents management in coastwide negotiations with the ILA.
“John Bowers was a man of vision who truly understood the importance of labor and management working together to protect jobs and the business that supports those jobs. He dedicated his life to representing his members, and he leaves a lasting legacy,” Capo said. “On a personal note, I have lost a true friend, and I will miss him.”
A Manhattan native, Bowers served in as a radio operator in the Army’s Fourth Armored Division in World War II in Europe, where his unit won a presidential citation and five battle stars.
After the war, Bowers joined ILA Local 824, which was headed by his father and uncle and whose members manned the passenger ship piers on the West Side of Manhattan.
He was elected to a series of local and regional union offices before his election as executive vice president. He continued to hold elective office until his death, serving for nearly 50 years as Local 824 president.
Bowers served on the executive board of the International Transport Workers’ Federation. He was a four-term vice president of the ITF and served as chairman of the federation’s dockers section.
As ILA president, he founded the union’s civil rights committee and established the ILA Children’s Fund, which has raised more than $2 million for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children with life-threatening diseases
Bowers’ awards included the Admiral of the Ocean Sea Award by the United Seamen’s Service in 1992 and the Connie Award from the Cotnainerization and Intermodal Institute in 1994.
He is survived by his wife, Marcy; two children; and a granddaughter. His son, John Jr., serves as the ILA’s legislative and government affairs director and is a vice president on the union’s executive council.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday.