Crews at Foss Tug in Long Beach escalated their fight to renew a fair contract during January. Dozens of workers represented by the Inlandboatmen’s Union, the ILWU’s Marine Division, attended a rally on January 6 in front of the Foss Long Beach headquarters on Berth 35.
Rally shows support
“The rally expressed our unity, determination to fight and willingness to win,” said John Skow, IBU Regional Director for Southern California. After a short march to the assembly area, workers heard from IBU President Alan Coté. “This is an important struggle for the entire maritime industry,” said Coté. “We’re up against a big corporation that seems more comfortable dictating than negotiating, but solidarity has always been a powerful weapon to level the playing field for workers.”
ILWU International Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe spoke on behalf of the International union. “You’ve got the entire ILWU family behind you in this struggle,” said Familathe, who noted that the union has never flinched from taking on tough fights and difficult employers. “There are a lot of people here today who are supporting this struggle,” as he recognized an impressive contingent of ILWU leaders present that included Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr., Local 63 President Paul Trani, Local 94 President Danny Miranda, Local 68 Port Pilots President Ed Royals and leaders from Ship Scalers Local 56. Representatives of the Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP) union also attended as did members of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) union.
Disrespect & legal violations
The rally occurred because management at Foss Long Beach has been refusing to negotiate in good faith and continues to retaliate against 30 IBU members with lay-offs, leaving roughly 20 workers employed out of the 50-member workforce.
Implementing their ultimatum
On January 5, the company took the drastic step of implementing new schedules that eliminated the contract’s 8-hour day – requiring workers to instead remain on vessels for days at a time. They also implemented a new pay schedule without union approval. These unilateral, one-sided actions are only allowed by law if the company has engaged in good-faith negotiations, exhausted all efforts to settle, and reached an “impasse” in the contract talks – something the IBU is vigorously disputing in legal charges that have been filed against the company.
Strike in Long Beach
IBU members responded to the company’s unlawful change in contract conditions by declaring an unfair labor practices (ULP) strike on January 16. The picket lines began to form early and were humming by 6am. They continued until 6pm that evening. The next morning, company officials were notified that union members agreed to return to work, with everyone back on the job that evening. “We’ve been trying to negotiate with a company that doesn’t seem to respect the law,” said Skow. “The contract talks began more than six months ago, but we were far from an impasse and could easily reach a settlement if Foss would respect the law and show a willingness to compromise.”
Big company with deep pockets
Foss is owned by Salchuk, a wealthy conglomerate created in 1982 that has grown with both union and non-union operations. Salchuk has used this flexibility to benefit wealthy owners at the expense of workers. For example, after Foss retaliated against workers with layoffs, they were able to keep clients by re-shuffling their tug business to a Saltchuk subsidiary known as “AmNav, ”which operates at various west coast ports including LA/Long Beach – without IBU crew members.
Saltchuk workers are represented by several unions, including the Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP), Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) and the Seafarers International Union (SIU). The ILWU and IBU are coordinating information efforts with these unions. “In the end, the struggle here at Foss will come down to a combination of courage and solidarity, which is what it always takes to win on the waterfront,” said ILWU Vice President (Mainland) Ray Familathe. “Foss workers are showing that they’ve got what it takes to see this through to a just conclusion.”