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Longshore Workers Solidarity Strike Settlement Raises Questions For Future Union Actions

A Bay Area union with a long history of progressive action settles a lawsuit over its Wisconsin solidarity action this April, but some of the workers question the agreement.

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Once it became clear that there was no quorum at the July meeting, Mead says, the union’s attorney asked him what to do.  “And I just turned to her and said, ‘Pursue a settlement.’”  He says he received word last week that the settlement had been completed.  Asked what would have happened if there had been a membership vote in June or July to reject the settlement, Mead responded, “We would’ve done whatever the membership said.”

There’s nothing unusual about a union settling a lawsuit without a membership referendum. But moving forward with this settlement violates the expectations of some members – and the previously stated intentions of union leadership.

In a phone interview August 4 – two weeks after Mead says he had told the lawyers to sign a settlement -- Local 10 Secretary-Treasurer Farless Daily said that there would be a vote on the proposal at the August membership meeting. Daily said then that he was reserving judgment about it pending more information from lawyers.  But he expressed concern that PMA could be attempting “to tie our hands so that we can’t do another job action in the future.”  Echoing others, Daily said that the current PMA offer was worse than what PMA attorneys had verbally suggested earlier.  “We were ready to settle the lawsuit before they added this language” he said.  Daily said that the membership’s vote would be “binding.”

Reached on his office phone August 16 and asked about reports that there would be no membership vote, Daily said that he was heading out of state to move his daughter into college and had no time to comment this week.

Willis, a former Local 10 President and current Executive Board member, says he’s troubled that “the group didn’t get an opportunity to make a decision.”  He says that the executive board’s “purpose is to set legislation for the membership to vote on,” and so when there was no membership vote on the settlement in July, he assumed there would be one in August.  Echoing others, Willis says members take pride in their local being “one of, if not the most, democratic unions in America.”

Leviege, another member of the Executive Board, charges that Mead “took it upon himself to strike a deal with PMA.”  Leviege and others expressed concern that a settlement validating an arbitrator’s ruling that the union instigated an illegal work stoppage would make it easier for PMA to secure legal injunctions against future work actions.  “Like everything with PMA,” said Leviege, “once they’ve got something in writing, they’ll use that the next time.”

Leviege, who attended the July membership meeting, says he believes that the necessary 150 members were present, and that ILWU leadership intentionally called for quorum while some people were out of the room as “a set-up” to prevent members from vote down the settlement.  Mead says the officers waited over 90 minutes for a quorum but no more than 120 people were there.

Leviege said that too much of the current ILWU leadership sees industrial action as “the old way of fighting” that’s been replaced by political action and demonstrations, and worries too much about legal liability.  “If that’s the case,” he asked, “how are we ever going to be able to do anything?  Because all the laws are against workers, so how are we ever going to be able to protect ourselves?”

Jack Heyman, a Local 10 retiree and a leader of the Committee to Defend Local 10, which was gathering pledges to support the local against the lawsuit, charges that Mead moved to “usurp” the “authority of the rank and file.”

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