Foss tug crews fight for fair contract at LA/Long Beach

Trying to negotiate with Foss: The union Negotiating Committee that’s helping Foss Tug workers at Long Beach has met dozens of times with the company since May of 2016. Reaching agreement has been difficult because Foss hasn’t negotiated in good faith, and officials retaliated against union workers; both are violations of federal labor law. (L-R) IBU President Alan Cote, IBU lost-time organizer Adam Dalton, So Cal Regional IBU Director John Skow, Stan Sato, Merle Norquist, Joey Saccomanno, Adam Petty, George Martinez III, Bob Engel, Zac Villanueva and Steve Phifer.

As the Dispatcher was going to press in Late December, tugboat crews at Foss Maritime Long Beach were trying to renew a contract that expired six months ago on June 30, 2016.

“It’s not unusual for negotiations to continue after a contract expires, but the refusal by Foss to bargain in good faith is what’s different here,” said IBU Regional Director John Skow.

He says there were roughly 30 negotiating sessions since May of 2016, but most involved company demands for unilateral concessions from the union, instead of good-faith bargaining to reach a settlement.

Retaliation against IBU members

Foss tug crews belong to the ILWU’s Marine Division, known as the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU). Until recently, about 50 IBU crewmembers were working on Foss tugs at the Ports of LA and Long Beach – the nation’s largest port complex. But when Foss officials didn’t get their way at the negotiating table, they retaliated with layoffs that targeted over 30 IBU members. Retaliation against union members is illegal and the IBU quickly filed federal charges against Foss, but the legal process still favors companies with deep pockets – and the new administration in Washington is making it clear that they intend to be friendly with corporations, not union members.

Foss wants to break with CA law

Foss has dug their heels behind a company demand that union members must waive their right to 8-hour shifts with overtime pay after a full day’s work. Those terms are also part of California’s labor code. It is technically possible to bend that law – but only if workers voluntarily agree to give up that right to overtime after am 8-hour shift in a new contract, which Foss has been demanding from the beginning.

Weeks on duty, smaller crews

Foss has taken their demand to waive overtime to the extreme, by insisting that tug crews remain on company vessels for up to two weeks before going home. Besides getting no overtime, the company would force crewmembers to work “mini-shifts” of 6 hours, with just 6 hours of downtime between shifts. The company is also proposing to reduce crew sizes from the current 3 to just 2, posing another safety hazard.

Dangers of sleep deprivation

Numerous scientific studies have proven the need for extended sleep periods to ensure safety and top performance, a fact that the company has apparently overlooked or ignored.

“These change would make Foss a lot of money, but it would also be incredibly dangerous for crewmembers to perform hazardous tasks while sleep deprived,” said IBU President Alan Coté.

Tugs crews know that their work can be extremely dangerous, and can describe some incredibly horrible incidents – including serious injuries and deaths – that have occurred at LA/ Long Beach.

“The 8-hour-day is a right that workers all over America fought and died to win,” said Adam Petty, a member of the IBU Bargaining Committee. “Longer duty periods would be hard on our families and pose a real threat to our safety, so we can’t ignore that reality when the company talks about increasing efficiency and making more profit.”

Big company with deep pockets

Foss is owned by a wealthy conglomerate called Salchuk that formed in 1982 and has been growing ever since with both union and non-union operations. Salchuk has used their 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 reshuffling tug business to a Saltchuk subsidiary known as “AmNav,” which operates at various west coast ports including LA/Long Beach – without IBU crewmembers.

Dangerous work: IBU member Jose Martin secures a heavy line on a
tug operating in the Los Angeles/Long
Beach Harbor complex. The work can be extremely dangerous, involving lines and cables that are subject to extreme pressure, sometimes resulting in serious injuries and deaths.

Union cooperation

Saltchuk workers are represented by a number of different unions, and the IBU is coordinating information with them, including the Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP), Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) and the Seafarers International Union (SIU) which has contracts with Crowley Maritime at the Ports of LA and Long Beach. Crowley crews remain onboard their tugs for days at a time, but the work they do – moving vessels in and out of the harbor complex – involves frequent downtime between the busy mornings and evenings, so they can’t be directly compared with Foss tugs that do different types of work without long breaks in their schedules.

Threat prompts strike vote

Foss escalated, first by retaliating with layoffs and again on December 9 when they announced the company’s “last, best and final” contract offer, declaring they intended to implement terms unilaterally in late December and early January – unless the union agreed to the company’s contract terms before then. The IBU’s negotiating committee responded by issuing a possible strike notice to Foss officials, and sending the company’s “last, best and final offer” to workers for a vote. Ballots from union members concerning the company’s final offer were scheduled to be counted on January 3.

“We’ve had a long relationship with Foss, and understand that changes are sometimes required in every industry, but we also need Foss to respect workers by negotiating over changes, instead of issuing demands, imposing ultimatums or breaking the law, which always rubs people the wrong way,” said IBU President Alan Coté.

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