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Report: Striking Longshoremen's Average Salary is Over $100,000 Per Year

New York Times

Published Oct 6, 2002
OAKLAND, CALIF. -- To American unions, globalization is a nefarious force that has wiped out the jobs of millions of well-paid blue-collar workers.

But the members of one union have played the global-trading system as well as any international investor: the longshoremen. They wield so much power that they have managed to obtain cradle-to-grave benefits and salaries to make many white-collar college graduates envious. For the longshoremen, globalization has been nothing but a blessing.

Full-time West Coast dockworkers who load and unload ships make on average nearly $100,000 a year, while clerks who keep track of cargo movements average $120,000. Not only does the medical coverage for active longshoremen require no out-of-pocket expenses, but the same holds true for retirees.

The benefits package, according to management, averages $42,000 a year, more than many Americans make in a year.

One other benefit: They get a paid day off to celebrate the birth of their Marxist founder, Harry Bridges.

There is a simple explanation why the longshoremen have benefited so much from globalization. They control the chokepoints that can halt the flow of imports and exports that American consumers and businesses depend on. In other words, the 10,500 longshoremen on the West Coast have the power to paralyze the $300 billion in cargo that flows through these ports every year.

In the past, management has often surrendered to the demands of dockworkers instead of enduring a strike or slowdown. This time, officials with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port operators and shipping lines, shut 29 ports last week and locked out the workers after complaining that the workers were engaged in a slowdown. The association wants the right to introduce new technology to speed cargo handling, while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union wants the remaining jobs to be under its jurisdiction.

Strategic location

The longshoremen hold an unusually strong hand. "They are one of the highest-paid blue-collar groups because of their strategic location in terms of controlling where goods funnel from ports to the nation's roads and railroads," said Howard Kimeldorf, a University of Michigan professor who wrote a book on dockworkers. "They have enormous bargaining clout because they have the power to stop all those goods."

Because of their handsome pay, the longshoremen can easily endure a prolonged work stoppage. Management is hard-put to use strikebreakers to replace them, not wanting to risk using inexperienced people to operate cranes that move containers half the size of railroad cars.

If workers at U.S. Steel or Caterpillar strike, it is easy for those companies' customers to buy steel or tractors from competitors. But if the longshoremen walk out, shipping lines cannot divert their cargo to other ports. Mexico's ports and roads cannot handle the cargo, Canadian longshoremen won't unload the diverted ships and East Coast ports are unavailable because the Panama Canal is too small to handle the huge Pacific ships.

In the past, retailers, farmers and manufacturers, who rely on trade, often pushed management to settle quickly by capitulating to the longshoremen. The just-in-time delivery system used by many factories and retailers leaves little margin for delay.

The longshoremen have also benefited from an unusual solidarity. New workers must takes courses about the union's history. And besides getting a day off for the union's founder, they also get to take Bloody Thursday, commemorating the day during a 1934 strike when two longshoremen were killed in San Francisco. The painted outlines of where the workers fell remain a longshoremen's shrine.

So What? 07.Oct.2002 06:06

Den Mark, Vancouver WA

There is nothing in this article which was not already known. Yes, the longshoremen make good money. That is the point. Because they have a great union, they make good money. So what. Is it bad for the middle class to make a solid living? I think not, & i support ILWU, tho i am not a member. I also support ILWU because they are socially aware & progressive. Would that all Americans knew the history of the struggle for rights in this country. NOTHING has EVER accrued to common man/woman without a fight. That's the way the capitalist system works, or does NOT work. The present stand-off with PMA, & the venal companies in back of it, is mostly about keeping union jobs union, not increase in pay. "Solidarity forever!"

ILWU 07.Oct.2002 07:37


Fuck the ILWU! They are abusing the power of their union and the importance of their work only to promote greed and conservatism. They do not have fair employment practises or policies. They have, instead, a long history of good 'ol boy organizational corruption and criminal association.

Longshoreman's struggle 07.Oct.2002 07:44

tru2liberty trudys@batdorf.com

Longshoremen have been the only union to support workers struggles throughout the world. It was the ILWU that supported the South African unions when they asked for help in protesting apartied, it was the ILWU that marched proudly beside environmentalists at the WTO's protest in Seattle. As for their salary and benefits, good for them if they have won good wages and benefit packages through their union. The press never seems to focus on the politicians who make more and have complete medical and dental coverage for themselves and their families that every taxpayer pays for but who doesn't have any socialized medical coverage for themselves. I support the ILWU and every other progressive union in this nation. We need more unions not less.

They are labor aristocrats 07.Oct.2002 08:16


Well, the conclusion is simple. the longshoremen are part of a labor aristocracy created in the U$ by the super-exploitation of the proletarians of the Third World--people who make on average 50 cents an hour.

There is so much profits wrung from this exploitation that the capitalists can afford to distribute some down to their "working class" allies. In general, that makes for some very conservative and compliant "workers."

Check out the views of the leadership of the ILWU on support for the Amerkkkan war effort. If the membership disageed with these policies they would depose the leadership---of course, they have not done that in the past and won't be doing that in the near future.

This is a minor economic dispute among long-term allies, both who fully support the Amerikkkan Way of Life.

ILWU support 07.Oct.2002 09:25


The last comment uses radical Maoist sounding language to basically support
Bush's position against the ILWU. FYI, the 'AmeriKKKan' president has now
threatened to use federal troops against the workers you are calling "labor
aristocrats". If the union struck and won, it would be a massive boost to workers
across the US and the world. By the way, the ILWU walked out of work a few years
ago to protest on behalf of Mumia and also walked out to support the struggle in

It is a classic tactic of US bosses to try to divide first and third world workers.
We shouldn't fall for it. There is a global race to the bottom, and all workers should support
eachothers' fight. Being a longshoremen is also one of the most dangerous jobs in the US--
5 ILWU members have been killed in the last six months on the job.

Longshoremen make some money now 07.Oct.2002 09:43


but the goal of the PMC and the Bush regime is to replace them with low-wage workers a la Walmart. Crews have already been busted. Most consist of porr men from India, China, and the Philipines. PMC would love it if the crews could unload the ships. Bush and his cronies would be the only souls who will be making the big bucks. Why shouldn't Longshoremen (and Bar Pilots) make good money? Why should they be busted down with the rest of us so that the corporate managers can rake in all the bucks from the cheap stuff being sold all over the world, produced by people who make a dollar a day? If Bush gets away with this one, the unions will be busted, and he'll be well on his way to being dictator of the world. Think about it.

ILWU are not our only allies in labor 07.Oct.2002 11:00

No-Doz Bukowski

Credit is due to the Teamsters and the Steelworkers as well, both of whom have turned out in big numbers in the past. Anyone remember that Teamster semi that got us all out of Pioneer Square on May Day 2000?

The ILWU are good at playing the game, within the system; which provides them with the means to change the system. Unionism is just another tactic to hollow out the military-industrial-corporate complex from within, no less valid than marching with a sign or kicking the windows out of Wells Fargo; and historically more effective than either.

Which side are you on, boys?

5000. - N.

This is a Complex Issue 07.Oct.2002 15:05


As I understand the issue, the primary concern is one of the implementation of technology in the docks. The unions are willing to allow the technology as long as they get the jobs associated with this technology. These jobs are primarily data entry and can be outsourced elsewhere in the country for cheaper waages. The union wants 'ownership' of these jobs at higher wages.

Yes, Bush and the Maritime industry is interesting in gaining greater profits off the back of the union by using technology to make the docks more 'efficient' (i.e. cheaper to run).

On the other and, ILWU is like most American unions in that they are nationalist/protectionist to the core. Their primary allegiance is to themselves and maintaining "their way of life" with respect to 3rd World labor to whom they hypocritically profess "solidarity."

Ultimately, this is a battle between Industry elites and a Labor Aristocracy. Read the following article for an interesting take on ILWU, American unions, and the anti-globalization protests.

Labor Unions Suck 07.Oct.2002 15:06

Bush Admirer

Organized labor is a not so funny joke.

On the one hand we see the our union protective labor laws being abused by professional sports agents, airline pilots, and the Longshoremen.

Even though we still have Longshoremen, they many service foreign flag shipping companies with foreign crews. That's because organized labor and government over-regulation pretty much killed off the American Merchant Marine.

Unions should be outlawed.

union elitism and cheap labor 07.Oct.2002 16:41

everyoneinthisworldisdoingsomethingwithoutme dizazt0r::blank1t's house

here here sue, the idea is to get people in there who will be making less money (cuz the country will have to tighten its belt and "roll back" as a whole, ya know, being that we're at war and all); it's more important that they make less fuss.

as for union elitism--all the unions i've been a "member" of (only in the 90s have i worked on union jobs--i'm in my late-20s) have been awful because of the "last hired, 1st fired" policy. THERE IS (APPARENTLY) NO *REAL* UNION PROTECTION BECAUSE THE SHOP STEWARDS, FOR WHATEVER REASON, DON'T HAVE THE 'POWER' TO PROTECT *ALL* UNION WORKERS.

where did this power go? was it sold for more prestige, for "job security"? don't the stewards of the union know that there is no such thing as job security UNLESS YOU ARE THE BIG BOSS?! you'd have thought they'd figure that out by now.

sorry for the venting, but it don't feel to good to be on a job and *know* that you do not have any real job protection because of how the union contract(s) were negotiated. the jobs i worked were stipulated that since i was on 90-day probationary status as a new-hire, i could be released from the job w/o any recourse. even if i survived the probationary period it was still the case most of the time that i didn't have enough senior clout in order to keep my position should there be an attempt to reduce the workforce. i've been terminated on the 89th day of a job one time, even though i was doing a "good" job. i didn't feel that i had to jump through hoops for management/union leadership and so i didn't last, but whatever.

the original idea behind unionization was to show the boss that the workers were stronger than them, as a unit, united. IMO, this approach doesn't work when there is strict 'leadership' (though the shop steward is technically the leader some SSs try hard to "sway and influence" union voting which of course takes union support--a majority is nice, and so all you have to do is make a majority of the union members--your co-workers--believe what is being told to them, blah blah). everybody has to be "the leader" and then all members can truly realize the responsibility they have to all other members and to themselves. it should ideally be "all or nothing", no fucking "okay, well we're gonna have to let the boss axe the bottom 10% of our workforce..."

you don't ever compromise with the Devil and that's what a lot of shop stewards and union reps appear to be doing a lot of times (depending on how "strong" the union is--eg, major-industry unions like truckers and airline pilots tend to command more responsiveness, except when that Taft-Hartley card gets pulled). blah blah, i hate 'work' anyway.

within or without 07.Oct.2002 17:04


'Unionism is just another tactic to hollow out the military-industrial-corporate complex from within'

-=-i respectfully add that it is effectively unlawful (i think) for US service folks to unionize or go on strike.

when the union is being busted by the "big boss" (*sigh* yeah, gw bush is the big boss right now).

hypothetically speaking, if 'all the workers' (who 'needed' union protection) united to form a single union (the ideal union but thanks to human socialization and selfishness...), and there was some sort of "state of emergency" declaration to bust this union (for american security sake blah), the military ('publicly'--uh, federally or corporately-maintained) would have to step to quell it. would they stand down if such was the case? (would this prompt the world-controllers to push for a globalized military-policing force?)

by "hollowing out" such a structure, what will be left in the case of success? since this structure seems to be inherently 'evil', why wouldn't we want to establish a different sort of structuring? though this argument isn't complete, it all boils down to either being with the structure and those who comprise the human facet of this structure or against it.

i've heard of worker rebellions at the turn of the century being put down by gunfire. that was the turn of the 20th century--could it happen here at the turn of the 21st century?

All working people are oppressed 07.Oct.2002 18:48


All working people are oppressed, some are given cookies.

Just because you have a cookie, doesn't mean you are less oppressed.

Just because you don't have a cookie, doesn't mean you are more oppressed.

The cookies are just ploys to divide you in your common struggle.

The Longshoreman 08.Oct.2002 17:20


I'm by and large indifferent to this labor dispute. The Longshoreman make $100,000+ a year, have a full benefit package with no expenses, less than a 40 hour work-week, and paid vacation. I make $12,000 a year (when an $8 an hour wage is added up), have no benefits, no vacation time, and a full work week. Whether they win or lose, no difference will be made in the situation of any body who is in a similar position as I (and there are a lot). The notion that any gain for a union is a gain for the working class is pure propaganda with no truth to it.

I've read this week about how various plants that are reliant upon goods not being unloaded at the ports are laying off workers, and local truckers in Portland aren't getting the hours they need because of the lockout/strike. This is another reason why the longshoreman will not be enthusiastically supported by the working class in general, namely the fact that many see their situation as being worsened by the actions of the ILWU. Unions create divisions within the working class by actually causing one segments interests to be furthered at another segments expense.

I resent the activoids here in Portland (most of whom haven't worked in ages) who look up at the Longshoreman with a pathetic sense of awe, obviously viewing them as the most working class of the working class -- or the most proletariat of the proletariat. Is it because they are more likely to be depicted in a socialist realist painting commissioned by Stalin (clad with muscular torsos, iron tools and work shirts) than a light-industrial temp like myself, or a clerical worker, or a waitress, a retail worker? It's ridiculous. They look at me as some privileged member of the anarchist/activist subculture, along the same lines of themselves, but if a "REAL WORKER" who flexes their muscles and lifts heavy loads and wields heavy tools approaches them, all I hear is a bunch of sycophantic admiration and ass-kissing. Fuck that. It's not that I'm asking for an "organizers" help to help me "organize" my workplace, but it would be nice to see people pull their heads out of their ass, and recognize that the working class takes many forms, and that many of its members will never have any interest in local "organizers" agendas.

I just so happen to have recently met the acquaintance of a real honest-to-gosh laid-off former GM autoworker from Flint, Michigan. He recently got a temp job doing the same thing I do. (Does anybody want to touch me? -- some residue from this REAL WORKER's aura might still be attached to me.) Additionally, he also happens to be black. He is a nice guy, but he is completely apolitical, and has no visible contempt for the status quo. He loves to watch TV and eat meat, and he just happens to love to eat at McDonalds (just for the sake of those who think that the NE residents who are black will necessarily be against McD's moving in on MLK). When he talks, it's usually about something related to consumption. The last conversation I had with him was about his big-screen TV, just to give you an idea. He, and the vast majority of people that I work with (and there has been a lot over the months, given that they're temps and don't stay long, thus allowing new workers to arrive) have no interest in living in the type of world that either you or I want to live in, and your activist projects don't really mean that much to them. Yes, they may be one paycheck away from homelessness, deep in dept, and have miserable or boring personal lives, but with the occassional exceptions, they might complain about being used and taken for granted without being shown the proper appreciation by companies they work for (if that), but rarely will I find any who thinks a world based on property, wage labor, accumulation and fixed societal roles needs to be rejected. I'm sorry to say.

Just a rant that's been long forthcoming.

Dont Squezz The Shoremen 12.Feb.2007 22:06


Longshoremen Rock the World keep going Round!!!! An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!!!

long shore 28.Nov.2009 21:23

Longshoremen Rock the World keep going Round!!!! An Injury T

the union is a fraud, the upper officers-i.e. pres/v.p. and such get paid tons of money off the backs of working men, even during economic downturns when dock workers are making a day a week to live, but these crooks won't lower their dues, money hungry-yes, wasting union money-yes, all off their brothers- vote them OUT!