Conditions on Baltimore’s docks have gone from bad to worse. ILA International trustees, Horace Alston and John Shade, have allowed the Steamship Trade Association (STA) to ride roughshod over the membership. But a rank and file upheaval is trying to put an end to the trusteeship.
Over a year ago, the ILA placed Baltimore’s deep sea local 333 in trusteeship amid allegations of missing money from a scholarship fund from over 20 years ago. Since then, the International officers refuse to handle any grievances on the piers.
In a move that enraged the rank and file, the STA decided that it would not specify jobs for longshore workers at the hiring hall. The STA & ILA made the change in hiring despite local rules adopted by the membership that required any change in work rules to be posted for 30 days before being voted on by the membership. The jobs of lasher, climber, spotter, etc. are now called out as general longshoreman. Unable to determine what job is offered, members suffer with the burden of losing a days pay or putting their lives or health in jeopardy. Some tall longshoremen can’t duck on car ships with low decks, some short folks can’t hang three high rods on container vessels. There are longshore workers with heart conditions or other physical impediments that can’t do some jobs, but who are quite capable of working in other capacities.
As the indignities mounted, many individual longshoremen challenged the trustees, but finally the rank and file had enough. Dockworkers set up three picket lines to protest the collusion of the union with management.
Close to 50 Baltimore dockworkers organized the first peaceful picket. The protests drew workers from all over the port and included black and white, young and old, new members and seasoned veterans. Protesters chanted, “We want our union back” and “Let our union go.”
A second protest was held during the noon meal hour and a third took place at the offices of the STA. In all instances, local workers were careful not to disrupt work in any way, and to clearly target the lack of union representation and collusion with the employers.
In response to the protests, The STA sent letters threatening charges against some 24 members. The trustees attempted to scuttle the protest by threatening disciplinary action against anyone who participated. The STA took pictures of protesters, even going so far as to hire a private investigator with a video camera. They claimed that port business had been disrupted, but emails sent by the port police to the STA provided an hour-by-hour update about the pickets, including language that described the picket as peaceful.
This attempt to stifle free speech and intimidate the membership backfired. Attorneys for the 24 filed an unfair labor practice lawsuit against the STA and are hard at work to stop the harassment by both the International trustees and management.
Additionally, dockworkers seek a swift end to the trusteeship. By law, the trusteeship must end by December of this year. Longshore workers in Baltimore look forward to elections and to reclaim their local for the rank and file. As this issues goes to press, the trustees have scheduled elections for December 18th.