Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Longshoremen

Get to Know AFL-CIO’s Affiliates: Longshoremen

Longshoremen
AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Longshoremen.

Name of Union: International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA)

Mission: To promote the best interests of our members and their families; to organize unorganized workers; to bargain collectively and to negotiate; to improve the wages, hours of work, job security, work and living conditions; to secure and promote laws for the benefit of all workers; to expand educational opportunities of our members and their families; and to promote health, welfare, pension, recreational and civic programs in the interests of our members and their families.

Current Leadership of Union: Harold J. Daggett serves as international president of ILA. Daggett began his career with ILA as a mechanic with Local 1804-1 in 1967. He is a third generation ILA member who worked with Sea-Land Services for more than a decade until he was appointed as secretary-treasurer and business agent for his local. He was re-elected to that position six times, while also serving as secretary-treasurer of the New YorkNew Jersey District Council. In 1991, he was elected secretary-treasurer of the ILA Atlantic Coast District, a position to which he was re-elected twice. In 1998, he was elected president of ILA Local 1804-1. He began serving as an ILA executive officer in 1999, the first eight years as assistant general organizer and then four years as executive vice president. He was first elected international president of the ILA in 2011 and has been re-elected in 2015 and 2019.

The other officers of ILA include: Stephen K. Knott (secretary-treasurer), Dennis A. Daggett (executive vice president), Wilbert Rowell (general vice president), John D. Baker (general organizer), James H. Paylor Jr. (assistant general organizer), Alan A. Robb (assistant general organizer), Benny Holland Jr. (executive vice president emeritus), Michael J. Vigneron (president, Atlantic Coast District), James Stolpinski (secretary-treasurer, Atlantic Coast District) and William Bernard Dudley (general vice president, Atlantic Coast District).

Current Number of Members: 65,000

Members Work As: Longshoremen

Industries Represented: Maritime workers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Great Lakes, major U.S. rivers, Puerto Rico and eastern Canada.

History: The roots of the ILA can be traced back to colonial America, as ships from the Old World needed workers to unload supplies. The earliest longshoremen in the United States lived a meager existence with horrible working conditions and low wages. Exploitation was widespread and workers were unhappy. In 1864, the first modern longshoremen’s union was formed in New York, the Longshoremen’s Union Protective Association (LUPA).

In 1877, an Irish tugboat worker from Chicago, Dan Keefe, formed the first local of the Association of Lumber Handlers, which would later become the ILA. Divisions among workers were exploited by big business in order to crush early unions such as LUPA. In 1892, delegates convened in Detroit where they officially became the National Longshoremen’s Association of the United States. A few years later, it was changed to the “International” Longshoremen’s Association to reflect the growing Canadian membership. Shortly after, ILA affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.

By 1900, ILA had grown to 50,000 members, most working the Great Lakes. Five years later, membership had doubled, with most of the new members coming from outside the Great Lakes region. The United States was the last country with large foreign commerce that hadn’t passed any laws to protect the safety of longshoremen. During the Great Depression, unemployed Americans flooded the longshoremen job market with cheap labor. Company unions grew in power and in size. After the passage of labor-friendly laws like the NorrisLaGuardia Act and the National Labor Relations Act, the ILA began to reorganize and reclaim many lost members and ports. After that, membership soared to above prewar levels.

In the 1950s, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey conducted an investigation of the ILA over concerns about corruption and ties to organized crime. The ILA immediately worked to clean house and get rid of corrupt or criminal elements, but in 1953, the ILA was suspended by the AFL and the International Brotherhood of Longshoremen (IBL) was created to replace it. Even though the accusations against the ILA were later proved to be groundless, the turmoil nearly destroyed the ILA.

In order to address these problems, organizer Thomas “Teddy” Gleason was sent from port to port nationwide to overcome the rising negative opinions about the ILA. After the ILA won an important election to determine representation at the Port of New York, opposing forces ramped up their campaign against the union. Gleason ramped up his organizing efforts in response and the ILA won a slim victory in yet another election for representation in New York. After a third representation election in 1956, which the ILA again won, the IBL dissolved in 1959 and the ILA joined the AFL-CIO.

Gleason was unanimously elected president of the ILA in 1963. He moved the headquarters to its current location, began settling the union’s troubled financial affairs and negotiated the longest-lasting ILA contract in history at that point. Gleason served as president for 24 years and his foresight saved countless jobs and increased job security and workplace safety. 

Today the ILA continues to grow and flourish, despite opposition from big business interests and competing labor organizations. Now, the ILA lives up to the vision of a modern union that leaders of the past saw for the organization and stands ready to face new challenges and technology that will affect working people’s lives.

Current Campaigns/Community Efforts: The ILA Quarterly Safety Bulletin provides those working in the industry with safety guidelines and helpful information. The OSH Circular provides additional safety information. The Tracking Damages video describes the effects of improper handling of damaged shipping containers. The Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Awards recognize the efforts of ILA members and allies who fight for a more inclusive workplace.

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Kenneth Quinnell
Mon, 08/05/2019 – 09:45

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Updated: August 21, 2019 — 11:46 am