Fed up with a perceived lack of support from the AFL-CIO during its many recent jurisdictional disputes, one of the organization’s most powerful members, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, is pulling out of the umbrella labor organization.
“It is with regret but resolve that we have come to the point where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union must cut formal ties with the AFL-CIO,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath said in a letter Thursday to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
McEllrath cut right to the heart of the matter, alleging that in recent battles with grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest, a construction-site skirmish in Seattle, the handling of refrigerated containers in Portland and container maintenance and repair work in Oakland, the AFL-CIO stood by while other AFL-CIO-affiliated unions took ILWU jobs.
The ILWU is especially angry about other affiliated unions crossing dockworker picket lines. The ILWU considers itself one of the purest of labor unions, and crossing another union’s picket line is the gravest sin one can commit under its ideological view of the workplace.
Citing specifically an incident in Seattle, where the ILWU had an agreement with the contractor of the “Big Bertha” tunnel drilling project to load debris onto barges at Terminal 46, only to have the contract rescinded, McEllrath stated:
“Just this week, some of the building trades affiliates have displaced ILWU workers in the loading of barges at Terminal 46 in Seattle where longshoremen have done this work for generations. They also had the gall to file several ULP (unfair labor practices) against us for picketing at our own marine terminal,” McEllrath said.
This move comes at a critical time for the ILWU as it prepares for the start of contract negotiations next spring with waterfront employers on the West Coast. McEllrath noted that because of the increasing use of automation at marine terminals, some traditional ILWU work will be lost forever. The jobs that remain will involve maintenance and repair of equipment, and other work that is sometimes performed by different unions.
“The survival of the ILWU and the job security of our members depend on our having these remaining jobs, which will mostly involve the servicing and maintenance of the robotics and other machinery,” he said.
While taking pride in its history as a militant labor organization, the ILWU views the AFL-CIO as going in the opposite direction. “The ILWU has also become increasingly frustrated with the Federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy positions on such important matters as immigration, labor law reform, health care reform and international labor issues,” McEllrath stated.
That message implies that in its contract negotiations next spring leading up to the July 1 deadline, the ILWU expects health care and medical insurance issues to be front and center.
The ILWU announcement comes shortly after the East and Gulf Coast waterfront union, the International Longshoremen’s Association, pulled out of the Maritime Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. The ILWU was not a member of the maritime trades unit.
The AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington was contacted after hours and could not be reached.