Oakland Port Maintenance Workers Call Strike

Oakland Port Maintenance Workers Call Strike

Port maintenance workers in Oakland represented by the Service Employees International Union plan to strike Tuesday, protesting what they charge are unfair labor practices by the port authority during contract negotiations.

The SEIU intends to hold a press conference at the end of the first shift on the docks Tuesday. If the maintenance workers set up picket lines at a marine terminal, cargo handling on the second shift would be affected if the International Longshore and Warehouse Union refused to cross the picket lines.

The SEIU represents maintenance workers at marine terminals. According to a statement from the union, port executives “refuse to bargain, dragging on negotiations with port workers for the last 16 months.”

Isaac Kos-Read, director of external affairs at the port, said the primary sticking point in the contract negotiations is the port authority’s demand that maintenance workers share in the cost of their pension plans. The port has been paying the entire 8 percent employee share of the defined-benefits plan. The port authority wants employees to pay 5 percent.

In a guest column in the Oakland Tribune this weekend, Gilda Gonzales, president of the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners, and Deborah Ale Flint, acting executive director, said that as the port’s labor contracts expire, the port authority is asking employees to contribute to their pensions. “We are seeking reasonable, shared contributions to the financial sustainability of the port,” they said.

The SEIU maintains that the port authority has a $37 million surplus. Also, citing recent news accounts about port executives entertaining clients at a Houston strip club in 2008, the union noted that the port is “under media scrutiny for misusing public funds.”

Gonzales and Flint responded in the guest commentary that prudent financial management requires the port to have sufficient funding on hand to pay its bills. “There is no surplus,” they stated. They also noted that an outside counsel is investigating port expenditures. Former Executive Director Omar Benjamin has since left the port.

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said the dockworkers union has not stated a position on the SEIU issue. If any action is taken on Tuesday, it will come from ILWU Local 10, he said.

Jim McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association, said that if ILWU dockworkers choose to honor any pickets, the employers’ organization will immediately seek an illegal secondary boycott ruling from the area arbitrator under the grievance procedure in the waterfront contract.

Kos-Read said the port and the SEIU have agreed to invite an arbitrator into the proceedings for a non-binding, fact-finding review to be held Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 3.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bmongelluzzo@joc.com and follow him at twitter.com/billmongelluzzo.