Longshoremen picket as Teamsters Local 676 Takes Work

Gwen Florio, Karen E. Quinones Miller and David Johnston,
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 02, 2012

They came in squad cars, vans and finally a New Jersey Transit bus, about 120 police officers in riot gear, facing down a rowdy but ultimately yielding band of about 30 longshoreman.

The workers, members of International Longshoremen's Association 1566, gathered yesterday evening outside the chained gates of a dock in Gloucester City as members of a renegade Teamsters union were scheduled to unload cargo the longshoremen regarded as rightfully theirs.

"We've always done the work. We don't have enough work now to support the men in the local," said Marty Masculli, 35, of Gloucester City, who said he's the third generation of his family to work on the docks.

By 9 p.m. the police were reporting only a single arrest for disorderly conduct and no injuries.

Earlier yesterday, a Camden County judge had ruled that a Norwegian ship, the Scandinavian Reefer, could be unloaded by men willing to work for $11 per hour rather than the $21 an hour commanded by longshoremen, union officials said.

Masculli was one of four men allowed to picket outside the gates of Trans Ocean Maritime Service, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which leases two piers here. On Thursday evening, Judge Barry M. Weinberg of Camden County Superior Court had issued an order limiting the pickets.

Shortly afterward, longshoremen smashed the windows of a car trying to enter the gates, and yesterday Weinberg tightened his orders regarding pickets, ordering the four men to stay at least 100 feet away from the gates.

Last night, though, the pickets defiantly stood directly in front of the gates as police massed in formation before them. The Teamsters, members of Local 676, were to arrive at 7 p.m. Two other Teamster locals are supporting the longshoremen.

But it was nearly an hour later before police shoved their way to the gate, shouldering aside the pickets and cutting through the chain with huge clippers. Most of the officers, from the Camden County Sheriff's Office and a dozen Camden and Gloucester County departments, pushed the 30 longshoremen down the street.

About a dozen others held back reporters and photographers, who earlier had had a brief shoving match with a few longshoremen. Then, very quickly, about half a dozen cars and vans with the Teamsters whisked through the gates.

There was a lot of shouting, and a single arrest for disorderly conduct. One longshoremen was taken away in an ambulance before the Teamsters arrived, looking as though he had collapsed from heat exhaustion.

By 9 o'clock, most of the longshoremen were going home.

"The ship is working," shrugged ILA officer Jim Paylor. "We just lost the issue." The longshoremen's pickets were targeting Holt Hauling & Warehousing, which owns the pier; Trans Ocean, and the Teamsters local.

"This is our work, and it's always been our work to unload the ships," said Harry Brown, a retired business agent for ILA Local 1291, who came out to support the longshoremen.

"We stood behind the Teamsters when they had their 86-day strike on these docks in the '60s," said Brown. "It's unbelievable that now they're trying to take our jobs."

The dispute began two months ago when Holt, which has a labor contract with ILA Local 1242 to unload ships, leased two piers to Trans Ocean. Trans Ocean does not have a contract with the ILA and planned to use Teamsters Local 676, based in Collingswood, to do the unloading.

"What those 676 workers don't seem to understand is that if they work for half of what we get, pretty soon the company will find someone who will work for half of what they get, and eventually the company will be just paying workers minimum wage," said Daniel Duffy, an ILA Local 1291 worker.

The ILA protested the leasing of the piers, saying it was an attempt by Holt to bust the union. An arbitrator previously had ruled that Holt had the right to lease the piers.

When word spread Wednesday night that the Scandinavian Reefer was pulling into one of the piers, longshoremen quickly organized pickets to stop Teamsters Local 676 from getting to the dock.

Teamsters from Locals 929 and 107, who normally work as drivers on the docks, refused to cross the picket lines, effectively shutting down all Holt and Trans Ocean operations.

"We don't want any trouble, we're just out here trying to protect our jobs," said Royce Adams of Lawnside, who has worked as a longshoreman for 20 years.

"People get the impression that we make so much money and we're being greedy, but what they don't realize is that although we make $21 an hour, we seldom get to put in more than 20 hours in a week," said Adams. "We have to hustle for work out here every day."

The Scandinavian Reefer holds 10,000 steel drums of frozen Chilean apple juice valued at $600 each.

 


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