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A peaceful protest

Longshoremen walk picket lines to draw atention to cruise lines' use of non-union labor

Posted: August 29, 2011 - 9:28pm
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Tourist Norm Balnchette of Phoenix, Ariz., right, talks with Don Stevens, a longshoreman from Whittier who came to Juneau to be part of the protest Monday on Juneau's waterfront. The longshoremen's complaint is they are not working the lightering dock seen in the background loading passengers from the cruise ships that anchor in the harbor.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Tourist Norm Balnchette of Phoenix, Ariz., right, talks with Don Stevens, a longshoreman from Whittier who came to Juneau to be part of the protest Monday on Juneau's waterfront. The longshoremen's complaint is they are not working the lightering dock seen in the background loading passengers from the cruise ships that anchor in the harbor.

Picket lines at Marine Park walked by local members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were calm and peaceful on Monday as they sought to bring awareness about what that organization believes is a cruise ship industry labor law violation.

Essentially, the union believes the cruise ship industry is breaking labor laws by not hiring longshoremen to handle work when the cruise ships are anchored in the harbors — instead of docked. Longshoremen are still hired to tender the cruise ship vessels themselves.

“It’s going good, peaceful, quiet,” said local chapter president Dennis Young. “We’ve received support from some of the passengers.”
He said they’ve also shared local food and excursion tips and encouraged visitors to visit local businesses.

“It’s a decent turnout,” Young said. “We’re still tying up the Zuiderdam right now. The issue is of the vessels shoring up and not hiring longshoremen.”

Tuesday Young and another member of ILWU Local 200, Unit 16 will head to Sitka and assist with a similar demonstration.

He said Sitka longshoremen basically have no work, since the town does not have a docking facility.

Young said the cruise ship industry is picking and choosing how to get work done, and circumventing the immigration law by using American workers, but not longshore union workers. By law, Young said, they are obligated to contact the contracted companies for longshoreman duties.

However, the head of the Alaska Cruise Association said the union has not expressed an interest in the past in crewing or securing the tender ships used to bring cruise ship passengers ashore.

John Binkley, president of the ACA, said the cruise lines use union labor when tying up the cruise ships themselves to the docks. However, he said American crew members aboard cruise ships “perform a lot of functions when the ship is in the water” and are capable of tying the smaller tender ships to the dock.

He also said the cruise ship companies are complying with federal law, even though they use non-union labor to shuttle passengers from ship to shore.

Young said the union will likely head to Ketchikan for another demonstration soon.

“I haven’t heard from Customs and Border Patrol today,” Young said. “We have been working with Customs and Border Patrol and our congressional delegation. We appreciate the support we’ve gotten, but at this time we don’t feel like Customs and Border Patrol has enforced the letter of the law. It requires them to go through the Department of Labor for people to do longshoreman work. It applies to any foreign hulled vessels in U.S. waters.”
Young said this does not affect domestic commercial operations like Tracy Arm tours or whale watching tours. It doesn’t affect personal leisure boats either.

“We’re not expecting that,” Young said. “That isn’t work covered under our contract. If they went to our employer and asked for our help, we would do the work. There was a comment about greedy union members, this work is the difference between members here and in Ketchikan receiving health benefits and a living wage. In Sitka this is a matter of them even receiving a paycheck, let alone benefits.”

Young said they’ve been fighting this for years and is appalled when people say the longshoremen have given up the right to do the work.

“We’ve never given up our right to this work,” he said.

Cruise ship passengers walking off the ramps mostly read the signs and walked on, though some stopped to ask questions. One commented that it was a pretty mild protest since the members weren’t “even chanting or anything.”

For more details on the labor issue dispute, see Monday’s Empire article at bit.ly/qGAJJJ.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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