Poster for Dec. 12 West Coast Port Blockade
Local unions are not offering Occupy’s Dec. 12 West Coast Port Blockade the same support they showed for the Nov. 2 General Strike. Most have opted not to take an official position on the upcoming action.
The Alameda Labor Council, or ALC, an umbrella organization that represents more than 100 unions, has not issued a statement on the upcoming action. The powerful union’s silence is a contrast to the public support it gave Occupy’s Nov. 2 day of action.
According to Charles T. Smith - AFSCME Local 444 delegate to the ALC - at a Dec. 5 delegates’ meeting, union delegates voted to table an ALC-proposed motion stating that the organization does not endorse a Dec. 12 port shutdown. Smith discussed dubious circumstances surrounding the proposed motion in an article on United Public Workers for Action’s website.
ALC Executive Secretary Treasurer Josie Camacho was not available for comment.
Peralta Federation of Teachers - PFT - President Matt Goldstein said the teachers’ union will not take a formal position either. In a discussion similar to that held before Nov. 2, PFT’s Executive Council ultimately decided not to take any action, he said. While there is widespread support for the Occupy movement’s principles among union members and leaders, Goldstein said, “We want to make sure that labor is making the decisions that have the greatest impact on labor.”
He explained that PFT decisions are made by talking to workers who will be most impacted by an action, in this case International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers. PFT also looks to its parent unions, the AFT - American Federation of Teachers - and CFT - California Federation of Teachers - for direction.
“CFT appears to be following the Alameda Labor Council’s lead,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein also cited the changing nature of Occupy Oakland for the union’s decision.
“We’re finding that some of the local urgency around Occupy is waning,” he said.
Not all local unions are keeping quiet. Oakland Education Association voted Monday Dec. 5 to endorse the port blockade. A statement from OEA President Betty Olson-Jones dated Dec. 9 included the following:
“OEA will endorse the Oakland Port shut-down mobilization on December 12 in solidarity with the Occupy Movement, the Teamsters & drivers at the Port of Oakland, and the ILWU, especially the local in the Bay Area and Local 21 (Longview, Washington) which is under attack. We shall encourage our members to participate outside of regular work hours.”
The statement also referenced past OEA efforts to encourage port commissioners to raise revenue for public schools and city infrastructure needs.
“Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” the statement reads.
ILWU Local 10 President Richard Mead said his union has not taken an official position on the action. In an interview with Oakland Local before the Nov. 2 port shutdown, Mead expressed his support for the Occupy movement and called the port “an absolutely appropriate target for a protest.” More recently his comments were less enthusiastic, though he said his feelings about Occupy have not changed.
Mead downplayed the affect of a shutdown on ILWU members and emphasized the impact on port truckers.
“We end up taking a day off as a result of this,” he said. “The truckers are really struggling. If they shut them out of the port there’s the real impact.” But he did say that ILWU workers were not paid during the Nov. 2 shutdown, a determination made by an independent arbitrator.
“It was a gift to employers,” Mead said. “I think the arbitrator’s part of the 1 percent.” Despite ILWU’s official stance, a number of members have been vocal proponents of the coordinated blockade.
The California Trucking Association - CTA - has actively opposed the shutdown. Michael Shaw, vice president of external affairs for the association, said the action will likely result in a day’s wages ($500 to $600) lost for independent port truckers.
“That group is the 99 percent that occupy claims to support,” he said. “It seems cruel for the group that claims to represent them to cause them a loss of income - especially during the holiday season.”
Shaw said the CTA has been informed that many employers will not direct truckers to the port on Monday, which means drivers could find alternative jobs for the day, but he thinks most will end up in limbo waiting for news on the port.
“The impact is not going to be felt in the corporate boardrooms; it’s going to be felt in the driver’s seat,” he said.
The Dec. 12 blockade was called largely as a reaction to the October firing of 26 port truckers in Los Angeles and Long Beach. The truckers were fired after wearing Teamsters T-shirts to work as part of an effort to form a union.