Tens of Thousands Line Up for $1,200-a-Day Jobs at L.A. Port

REUTERS/Bob Riha, Jr./File Photo
REUTERS/Bob Riha, Jr./File Photo

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) chose half of the 2,400 winners out of the 80,000 lottery contestants for Los Angeles area port jobs that can pay up to $1,200 per day.

Despite the powerful ILWU Local 13 considering a new round of work stoppages at Los Angeles area ports against the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the employers and the union arbitrators completed their first lottery drawing in 13 years on June 2.

Part-time union laborer work at the ports is referred to as “casual employment” and only pays $15.14 an hour. But it has been the entry path for blue collar workers who can eventually find full-time positions that pay up to $133,064 a year, earn up to a $59,180 annual bonus, and come with spectacular benefits and lifetime pensions.

The ILWU controls the 29 major West Coast ports and has had a long history of inflicting labor turmoil. Beginning in November 2014, the 13,600 unionized dockworkers shut down all the local ports in a bitter 4-month strike that cost $2 billion per day in economic damage to the U.S. economy, and caused about one third of West Coast agricultural exports to rot.

The labor dispute was settled, with the ILWU and PMA signing a five-year contract that included nearly no-cost health coverage, an $11,000 increase in the maximum pension benefit to $91,000 a year, and a $1-per-hour wage increase over each of the five years.

Traditionally, the ILWU has been able to make sure that only family members and friends could find entry casual labor cards at the San Pedro Union Hall to obtain jobs with employers at the ports.

The union proudly posts the “ILWU Story” on its website, which celebrates the iron-fisted control of West Coast ports that began with the West Coast Waterfront Strike of 1934. That strike saw 150,000 dock workers shut down the West Coast for 83 days at the height of the Great Depression. The ILWU has made fabulous economic gains for its members, but the employers have responded by automating away 136,000 port jobs.

The PMA and the ILWU’s latest agreement for the casual employment lottery drawing was arranged to allow the public, for the first time, a chance to win lucrative port jobs. But under the agreement, the union reserved the right to have all-odd-numbered lottery selections be pulled from a union barrel designated as “Interest Cards,” which was reserved for ILWU members’ family and friends. All even-numbered lottery selections came from “Public Cards” that were made available to 76,000 applicants.

There was no guarantee that the winning 1,200 Interest Card holders and Public Card holders would ever be called out at the Union Hall for the coveted $15.14-per-hour entry-level laborer jobs. But that did not stop the lottery drawing excitement, and the hopes of one day becoming full-time card-carrying ILWU longshoremen or warehousemen.

Regardless, with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union collective bargaining agreement with the PMA covering 29 West Coast ports set to expire on July 1, 2019, most analysts expect the cycle of labor tensions and work slowdowns to start again.

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