The ILWU represents 42,000 members in over 60 local unions in the states of California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. An additional 3,500 members belong to the Inland boatmen's Union of the Pacific, which constitutes the Union's Marine Division. Another 14,000 members belong to the autonomous ILWU Canada.

Jimmy Herman led the union from 1977 to 1991, when David Arian replaced him, followed by Brian McWilliams in 1994. James Spinosa defeated McWilliams in the election for ILWU President in 2000. The current president is Robert McEllrath, a Longshore worker from Local 4 in Vancouver, WA.
On April 22, 1999, the ILWU won a representation election for the workers at the gigantic Powell's bookstore chain headquartered in Portland, Oregon. The workers there became ILWU Local 5.

The ILWU was accused of engaging in a slowdown of work on docks in 2002, as an alternative to a strike, to support its contract demands in negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association. The union has documented that productivity was in fact stable at that time, while the employer claims to have contradictory data. The employers responded to the slowdown with a lockout, disallowing the workers to do their jobs. The Bush administration sought a national emergency injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act against both the employers and the union. Opponents of the union have proposed moving longshore workers from coverage under the National Labor Relations Act to coverage under the Railway Labor Act, which would effectively prevent longshore workers from striking.

The Longshore Contract that resulted from 2002 negotiations expired on July 1, 2008. The ILWU and the PMA reached a tentative agreement for a new 6-year Longshore Contract on July 29, 2008. The ILWU membership voted overwhelmingly to approve the new contract.
 
The ILWU Foremen's union began December 2, 1948, when Harry Bridges granted our charter to supervise the Longshoremen.
 
The Foremen shall be responsible to management for the direction of work, supervision and maintenance of discipline on the job of the men employed under the Pacific Coast Longshore Contract Document, including placing and discharging of men and regulating the safe, efficient, and proper handling of cargo with due respect to the interest of his Employer.  
 
     Foremen shall be employed to supervise longshoremen employed for the purpose of setting up, breaking down or shifting high piles, or otherwise   fulfilling the requirements for the last place of rest under the terms of the current Pacific Coast Longshore Contract Document.
Foremen shall work as directed by their employer, and shall supervise such longshore operations on more than one location, and at more than one berth within each terminal complex area if such supervision becomes necessary through operational needs.
 
    The dock Foremen assigned to a vessel will be required to supervise the longshoremen assigned to that vessel on all operations involving cargo moving to or from the vessel to which he is assigned, and other cargo operations within the area in which the vessel is working, including adjacent berths.  Foremen shall not supervise both ship and dock operations simultaneously, with the exceptions of stores jobs, bulk jobs to and from pipe lines, and jobs on which no dockmen are working.
 
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