Robert McEllrath started working on the docks at the Port of Vancouver, Washington in 1969 after he finished high school. Within years, his co-workers were electing him to a variety of positions at Local 4, including their Executive Board, Dispatcher and Labor Relations Committee.
In 1993, McEllrath was appointed to the union’s important Coast Committee, the body that oversees the Longshore Division contract covering over 15,000 dockworkers in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was elected to that position for another term in 1997.
In the year 2000, McEllrath was elected as Vice President of the International Union, and was re-elected to that post again in 2003.
In 2006, McEllrath was elected International President of the ILWU were he represents over 60,000 members along the West Coast, which includes members in Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii.
McEllrath has extensive contract negotiating experience, beginning with local and regional contracts that he settled in the Northwest, and continuing with the union’s crucial Longshore Contract where he served as a Negotiating Committee member in 1993 and 1996. McEllrath was elected to Co-Chair the Longshore Contract negotiations in 1999 and 2002. In 2008, McEllrath chaired the negotiations that resulted in significant gains for longhsore workers. In 2009, McEllrath was elected by members to serve a second term as International President of the ILWU.
McEllrath is a second-generation longshore worker. He is married to Sally McEllrath. Their oldest son, Peter, 42, is carrying on the family tradition as a third-generation longshore worker. He is a member of ILWU Local 92 and an active union officer. They have a second son, Jason, 40, who works in the real estate industry.