Working" conditions on the waterfront terminals of the West Coast today are more dangerous than they were back in 1934."
This is a statement that is so painfully accurate that it will be restated later. But let us consider this: how, or even more importantly, why is it more dangerous to work as a Longshoreman, Clerk or Walking Boss/Foreman on our waterfront terminals today? After all, we have negotiated dozens of safety codes with the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). These are encompassed in the "Pacific Coast Marine Safety Code", and published in booklet form for all labor and management personnel. We also have access to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that govern safety on all waterfront terminals (CFR 1917&1918). Why are today’s conditions so much more perilous than those found on the waterfront years ago? To answer this, we must study the conditions that are prevalent on the docks of the West Coast in 2005.
First of all, today’s terminals feature an array of huge, fast moving machinery that simply did not exist back in the 1930’s. There are Portainer/Hammerhead cranes, Rubber Tired Gantry Cranes, Top Handlers, Straddle Carriers, Side Handlers, and Yard Hustlers. Each of these machines varies in weight, from a few tons to a few hundred tons, with the specific task of moving containerized cargo. In the 1930’s, winches moved cargo in and out of the ship’s hatches. For the most part though, cargo was handled by hand, with little help from mechanized equipment. Today’s containerized cargo can be moved hundreds of times faster using the above-mentioned machinery, without the need for moving it by hand. Equipment operators require training before actually operating any machinery. The biggest problem here is that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has continually demanded that a comprehensive training program for all equipment operators be instituted, one that takes weeks, or even months, to complete, not just days. The employers continually disagree, expediting the training process whenever possible in order to save money. What we have seen as a result is on-the-job-training, with workers operating machinery without having had enough time to learn to operate it safely and efficiently.
Secondly, to go along with the movement of containerized cargo is the employer’s insatiable appetite for increased production in the movement of that cargo. As late as the 1960’s, it could take several Longshore gangs a week or more to discharge a coffee ship by loading sacks onto pallets, one at a time, by hand. A winch driver would then discharge these pallets to the dock. Today, with the use of mechanized equipment, the same volume of cargo can be discharged and loaded within an eight-hour span by a single container gang. With record- breaking increases in container volume on the West Coast, coupled with ever decreasing terminal space in which to store it, faster turnaround times are being demanded by shippers. Workers feel the stress of needing to expedite the movement of containers on and off these mega-container terminals. With the combination of outside truck traffic, enormous container-handling equipment, and restricted spaces in which to work, a dangerous type of "speed-up" or unsafe increased rate in which work progresses is taking place. This unnecessarily adds to an already dangerous working environment.
The record increases in the volume of containerized cargo into and out of West Coast Ports have necessitated the hiring of thousands of new longshore workers. This means that a large portion of today’s workforce is inexperienced when it comes to working on shipping terminals in a safe and efficient manner. General Safety Training is offered to all ILWU workers, once every three years. It is an eight-hour session, taught in a classroom by an instructor from the PMA who has no practical longshore experience. Compare this safety training to that offered in other industries, such as petroleum, water, and other utilities. Their workers undergo safety-training sessions annually, and sometimes even monthly. The emphasis here is on real safety in the workplace, where these employers mandate safety compliance. Perhaps the PMA should stop their hypocritical stance on safety and truly enforce the Safety Code.
In conclusion, it is not difficult to understand why the waterfront terminals on the West Coast are so dangerous. Enormous machinery, lack of training, inexperienced workers, and the "speed-up" of work have all contributed in making these terminals an accident waiting to happen. In less than an 18-month period spanning 2001-2002, six (6) workers were killed on the docks of the West Coast. This was by far the worst period concerning worker safety ever recorded. In January of 2005, two (2) workers have already been killed on the West Coast. One month before, a Longshoreman in Hawaii was killed. And on August 13th, another Longshore fatality was suffered in the Port of Tacoma. That makes four (4) ILWU Longshore members killed within nine (9) months. There are also hundreds of disabling injuries that are incurred by ILWU workers each year as a result of on the job accidents. Sadly, this trend will continue until the employers sit down with the ILWU and OSHA, and make a firm commitment to establish safety compliance on all West Coast terminals.
THE ILWU COAST SAFETY COMMITTEE
John M. Castanho (10), Chair
Richard Alvarez (13)
Roger Boespflug (23)
Dennis Brueckner (54)
Pete Favazza (13)
Daniel Miranda (94)
Jerry Ylonen (8)
Mike Zuliani (63)