Longshore Contract Passes Narrowly; Opponents Claim Vote Was Unfair

Opponents of a master contract covering 15,000 East and Gulf Coast longshore workers in the International Longshoremen’s Association are protesting a June 8 contract vote. They are alleging serious misconduct, including charges of voter intimidation, and misinformation about the time and location of balloting in some ports.

These opponents made a surprisingly strong showing due to high turnout and a positive response from the rank and file to a member-led “vote no” campaign waged over a short eight-week period (see Labor Notes, June 2004). Oppositionists, buoyed by the success of their campaign, attribute some of that success to discontent running deeper than they had thought.


“This is the first time in ILA history that we have had such a narrow contract vote. We consider it a major victory,” said Leonard Riley, a reform leader and member of ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina. “That said, we don’t see this as a done deal. This is part of a bigger fight to reform our union. We want a strong and democratic union, free from corruption.”

Contract opponents objected to: the continuation and deepening of a multi-tier wage scale; the introduction of a new three-tiered health care plan; and the six-year length of the contract.

In some ports members voted down the contract overwhelmingly. Before the vote, opponents from several locals organized caravans to tour ports up and down the coast campaigning against the contract and bolstering opposition.

One of their stops was Hampton Roads, Virginia, where members responded enthusiastically. They hadn’t yet received the proposed contract and weren’t aware that other members were campaigning against it. Members there rejected the contract 1,225 to 218, with an 85 percent turnout.


The ILA, which refuses to release a local-by-local breakdown of the vote, claims that the contract passed 5,084-3,920, with 60 percent of the membership voting.

But opponents, who are informally organized as Concerned ILA Members, conducted their own tally and say that some of the largest ports rejected the contract. They question the validity of the results, based on reported irregularities in at least six of about 36 locals. They believe they may have carried the vote if it weren’t for these irregularities.

In New Jersey Local 1235, a union representative is alleged to have ripped ballots from contract opponents’ hands while Albert Cernadas, the local president and an international vice president, looked on. In Jacksonville, Florida, members were informed of a union meeting but not told that a vote would take place. Instead of the typical 12-hour balloting period they were given only two hours, preventing many from voting.



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In Lake Charles, Louisiana, members were not notified of the vote until the night before and the vote was reportedly held in a climate of intimidation. Similar reports are still coming in from Houston and other locals.

Federal law (the Landrum-Griffin Act, which safeguards individual member rights) requires that contract votes be “fair and meaningful,” meaning that members have a right to be informed of the proposed contract, receive proper notification of the date, time and location of the vote, and vote in an atmosphere free of intimidation. Opponents are exploring legal options to enforce this law.

Rank-and-file members and officers from several locals in ports up and down the East Coast have written to the union demanding that it refrain from signing the contract, investigate their charges, and conduct a revote if necessary. They are requesting a breakdown of the voting by local and asking the International to inform the employers association that the voting is being questioned and that the referendum process has not been completed.


“We are appalled at the ILA’s strategy of imposing an information blackout,” said Rick Cephas of Local 1694 in Wilmington, Delaware. “The contract was forced through without real information or enough time for discussion—the current one doesn’t even expire until September 30.”

The International has not responded to the allegations.

“We were sold out all down the coast,” said Riley. “Our International officers play the bosses’ game, trying to pit port against port. In 1996 they sold out workers in the New York/New Jersey locals by slashing pension benefits. Now they agreed to concessions on the national agreement, while trying to buy off angry members by doubling their pensions. But many members did not go for that foolishness and stood up for a stronger contract.”

Observers were surprised by the breadth of the vote-no campaign. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the ILA repeatedly stated that the contract would be overwhelmingly ratified. Jim McNamara, the ILA spokesperson, said the vote “was unexpectedly close.”

Members also voted on local contracts in their June 8 balloting. Several of these were defeated. Concerned ILA Members says it will be organizing solidarity committees for the ports where local contract negotiations will resume.

“We will continue to reach out to everyone who is dissatisfied with the contract and the voting process,” said one ILA member who participated in the caravan to Hampton Roads. “This was not just a contract vote—it was a vote for real change in this union.”

Carl Biers is director of the Association for Union Democracy.