Oakland’s port workers organize mutual support

Oakland, Calif. — Port workers employed by different bosses and doing various types of labor at the Port of Oakland and the Oakland International Airport have begun to organize to support each other’s struggles. They are demanding the right to organize, fair wages, decent working conditions and an end to discriminatory practices.

Some of these workers belong to unions, such as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, Service Employees union Local 1021 and UNITE-HERE Local 2850. Many others don’t belong to any union yet, but are fighting for the right to do so.

All these workers are employed by bosses under the jurisdiction of the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners. Organizing themselves as the Port Workers Assembly, they have just published their first newsletter, which they named “Turning the Tide.” This first issue included articles by Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10; Joel Schor, Sailors Union of the Pacific; a warehouse worker; a port truck driver; and a rank-and-file clerical worker who is a member of SEIU Local 1021.

On Oct. 26, the Port Workers Assembly supported a rally held by UNITE-HERE Local 2850 in response to the Jamba Juice company’s firing of a worker at the Oakland airport. Of 12 Jamba Juice employees, she was the second worker fired because of her union organizing efforts. Two workers at the airport Subway store have also been fired for union involvement.

UNITE-HERE has called for a boycott of the nonunion concessions at the Oakland airport. These include See’s Candies, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Jamba Juice, Subway, Burger King and World Passage Duty Free.

All the food and retail concessions at the airport are contracted by the port commissioners to the HMS Host company. Two hundred people who work for HMS Host directly are members of UNITE-HERE 2850, whose contract expired on July 1.

The other 100 retail and concession workers at the airport work for franchises subcontracted by HMS Host and have no union protection. The Host contract with the port requires them to provide a living wage higher than the current minimum wage and to honor union card check for union recognition. Host is not enforcing these rules with any of the subcontracted franchises.

The SEIU 1021 port workers are also without a contract. They took over the Port Commission meeting on Oct. 19, forcing the commissioners to adjourn. The SEIU statement read, “While Port executives demand SEIU Local 1021 members give up decent wages and healthcare, investigations this week reveal that those same executives have been egregiously misusing public funds since 2008, including $4,500 at a strip club, $476 for a haircut, $324 for a pair of golf shoes and thousands more in extravagant entertainment outings.”

In addition, the ILWU’s contract with the grain employers in the Pacific Northwest expired on Sept. 30. Negotiations are scheduled to begin on Oct. 29. The talks temporarily avert a planned lockout by the employers, who are trying to shove a very concessionary and restrictive contract, modeled after the contract with EGT in Longview, Wash., down the collective throats of the longshore workers. The Port Workers Assembly is endeavoring to unite other port workers in solidarity should there be strike actions or a lockout. n