A two-month longshoremen’s strike in 1977 left Harold Daggett so strapped he qualified for food stamps, but Daggett said he couldn’t tap family members for a loan “because they were all ILA members and on strike, too.”
Now, the new president of the International Longshoremen’s Association is taking over what resembles a family business.
Daggett is a third-generation ILA member. His son Dennis is newly elected president of the ILA’s Atlantic Coast district. A second son, John, was elected one of the district’s four vice presidents. Cousins, nephews and in-laws also are involved with the ILA, a union where family connections are common.
Daggett, 64, joined the ILA in 1967 after a hitch in the Navy. He started as a mechanic in Local 1804-1, which represents workers who maintain and repair containers, chassis and equipment at the Port of New York and New Jersey. He became a foreman, then the local’s business agent in 1981 and its president in 1998.
Local 1804-1 was among several New York-New Jersey locals that accepted federal oversight to settle a civil racketeering lawsuit in 1990. Daggett found himself in prosecutors’ crosshairs in 2005 when he was charged with racketeering conspiracy with two other ILA officials and a Genovese mob captain.
He was acquitted after a six-week trial that turned on his emotional testimony about an early-1980s encounter with star witness George Barone, a twice-convicted waterfront racketeer and onetime ILA vice president and Local 1804-1 business agent whose resume included more than a dozen mob murders.
Barone claimed the Mafia sought to install Daggett as ILA president in 2001 so he would do the mob’s bidding. Daggett testified Barone was an enemy, not an ally, and told a chilling story of how Barone summoned him to the back room of an East Harlem fruit store in the early 1980s, held a gun to his head and threatened to blow his brains out.
Daggett’s testimony riveted the jury and audience, and won the case. “He took over the courtroom,” one lawyer said.
The episode illustrated one of Daggett’s chief strengths: He’s an effective speaker who knows how to move an audience. He makes his points in a Noo Yawk vernacular and a style that tends to feature combativeness and humor, sometimes simultaneously.
Delegates at last month’s ILA convention hooted and clapped when he told of touring an automated terminal in Rotterdam where the only visible workers were pushing buttons in a control tower. “If I’d had a hand grenade, I’d have threw it up there,” he told the crowd.
Daggett was a contender for the ILA presidency in 2007 when John Bowers retired after 20 years in office. When Richard Hughes was named Bowers’ successor, Daggett was elevated from assistant general organizer to executive vice president.
As the union’s No. 2 officer, he made headlines repeatedly and sometimes overshadowed Hughes. The two clashed in 2009 over Hughes’ negotiation of a contract extension before Daggett agreed to support the proposal.
Last year Daggett declared “war” on any container line that might seek to use chassis pools to circumvent ILA maintenance-repair jurisdiction, although no company had suggested such a move. He later threatened a strike unless New York-New Jersey maintenance contractors affirmed a contract agreement allowing his local to inspect trucker-owned chassis at port terminals.
In September, he defended a two-day port shutdown by New York-New Jersey ILA members supporting Philadelphia dockworkers upset at the shift of fruit imports to a non-ILA terminal. Carriers in the New York Shipping Association have sued the ILA and several locals for $6 million in damages.
When the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor held hearings last fall featuring testimony about $400,000-plus pay for a handful of ILA shop stewards and timekeepers, he accused the commission of a witch hunt and declared, “When I hear somebody makes $400,000, then I know I’m doing my job. I wish everybody could make $400,000.”
Such talk makes many shippers and carriers apprehensive, but Daggett is unapologetic. “All they have to do is get along with the ILA,” he said, “and they’ll have nothing to be nervous about.”