Port Workers to Strike Tonight



Starting tonight and following months of fruitless labor negotiations, workers employed by the Port of Oakland will strike for 24 hours with a picket at Terminal 1 of the Oakland International Airport. On Tuesday, they plan to picket the Port's maritime terminals. Because other unions crucial to the Port's operations such as the ILWU longshore workers will not cross picket lines, it's likely the strike will disrupt operations at both the airport and marine terminals, effectively shutting down the movement of millions of dollars' worth of goods.

The strike comes after sixteen months of failed talks between the Port and the major unions that represent its employees. SEIU 1021, which represents 223 of the Port's 474 full-time employees has been without a contract since June 30, 2011. The same is true for the Western Council of Engineers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1245, which represent 38 and 36 workers, respectively. The fourth union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents 154 workers, has been without a contract since June 30 of this year.

Despite the relative financial health of the Port, its management is attempting to force employees to contribute 5 percent to their pensions, and to deny a standard cost of living increase — two concessions that union leaders say amounts to a 15 percent pay cut.

Since the Express last reported on this story, an internal audit revealed that the Port's executive director and maritime director spent $4,500 at a strip club in Houston, Texas while entertaining BNSF railway executives. The audit turned up thousands of dollars more in questionable credit card charges, including pricey golf equipment and outings, $1,000 in wine, and $476 in haircuts by Port managers who make six-figure incomes.

Also looming over the port's managers is a $123 million lawsuit brought by SSA Marine, a subsidiary of Carrix, Inc. and Goldman Sachs. Then there's another labor battle at the airport, where un-organized workers are fighting for healthcare benefits and other rights against concessionaires including Subway and Burger King.

The strike at Oakland's port coincides with strikes at other seaports across the globe. Closest to home, in Portland, Oregon, security workers may strike next week, effectively closing that city's marine terminals. Across the Pacific Northwest longshore workers have been battling global agribusinesses like Bunge for over a year to defend their pay and rights. Although longshore workers more or less lost last year's confrontations in Longview, Washington, the overall contest is by no means resolved, and could explode again into an all-out strike that would idle one quarter of the US grain export industry. On the East Coast and Gulf Coast the powerful 65,000-member International Longshoreman's Union is in negotiations over a new contract with the US Maritime Alliance, an association of the shipping corporations. The union has threatened to strike if no contract is reached by December 29.