Waterfront work can be dangerous

Posted: Friday, July 01, 2005

Working on the docks has always been a dangerous job, where a person needs to be careful and prepared.

It continues so today. You may think that the men tying up the giant cruise ships just put a line on a bollard and their job is complete. But they also run big machinery, including the large forklifts placing the massive steel gangways into position and then removing them before the ship departs. They also assist in loading and unloading freight.

These individuals belong to a proud and historic union, the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen Union. In the days when the East Coast maritime unions were corrupted by mob influences, the West Coast union was always clean - at least since the time Harry Bridges was president. He was a noted labor leader who was accused by the government of being a communist, but he was always loyal to his workers and placed their welfare first.

I once belonged to this union, the warehousemen's branch. We had what was called a union shop at Juneau Cold Storage in the 1950s. The employer could freely hire, but after a short time, you were required to become a member. I was sworn in at the union hall on Willoughby Avenue.

The longshoremen part was more of what is called a closed shop, that is where the members were already union and the employer was furnished workers from the union hall.

Fifty years ago, when we shipped frozen salmon, black cod and halibut in 100-, 200- and 400-pound wooden boxes, we would push the load to a dockside sling, where the longshoremen would take over and load the fish aboard the refrigerated ship. Even when vans started to be used, the warehousemen carried the fish to the van, and the boxes were loaded inside by longshoremen.

Today, Juneau's longshoremen work for Southeast Stevedoring, which deals with the cruise lines. This company is based in Ketchikan. The local members include Dan Jorgensen, Gene Jorgensen, Wally Brommels, Lester Cole, Tim Williamson, Larry Englund, John Bukoskey and John Bush. They spend a busy summer on the waterfront.

I've known many fine men over the years who have been leaders of the union, including Joe Guy, Martin Ebona and Mike Ellers, whose father, Roman, was a good friend of my dad.

I watched Wednesday ev- ening as the giant liner Holland America's Amsterdam was cast off. Also on the docks were two city employees providing security for the thousands on board ship. They were Ron Hilbert and Doug Liermann.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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