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COVID19: Port of Oakland ILWU longshoremen threaten to walk off job

PortandTerminal.com, March 21, 2020

OAKLAND, CA – ILWU Union members at the Port of Oakland are worried about being exposed to COVID19 and are threatening to walk off of the job unless measures are taken to protect them.

They have good reason to be worried.

California currently has over 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID19 and the entire state has been ordered to stay at home. The ILWU longshoremen though are still at work and are responsible for keeping the cargo moving during this global crisis and are worried about getting sick.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a letter to President Trump on Wednesday that he expects about 56% of the state’s population – more than 22 million Californians – to be infected with the coronavirus over an eight-week period.

Union Demands

Workers protesting outside a container terminal operator's offices.
ILWU longshoremen have good reason to be worried.

ILWU leaders and members protested outside the offices of the SSA Marine container terminal at the Port of Oakland on March 20 to demand that the company provide proper better health and safety for longshore workers loading and unloading the ships.

Demands from the local union chapters in disinfecting the worksite include sanitizing equipment, work areas, terminal bathrooms, mechanic shops, tools, machines, turnstiles and gates.

They had previously already stopped work at TraPac to force the company to clean their work equipment to protect them from the COVID-19 virus.

Oakland Port workers have been on edge since the Grand Princess docked at an empty pier at the Port of Oakland last week. The cruise ship, which had 21 confirmed cases on board, disembarked at the port and its 3,500 passengers were transferred to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

READ: Coronavirus cruise ship docks at Port of Oakland

Bay Area representatives of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, Locals 10, 34, 75 and 91, are asking SSA Marine to thoroughly clean equipment at its Oakland terminal between shifts. All other container terminals now employ a separate staff for this except for the SSA, said Keith Shanklin, spokesman for Local 34.

SSA Marine, which leases a terminal from the Port of Oakland, is the employer of the longshoremen.

“They’re trying to have us come in and clean the equipment. That’s not our job, that’s their job,” Shanklin said. He said under current contract rules, employers are required to provide safe working conditions for employees. This includes efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus by making sure thorough sanitation is enforced, he said.

If SSA doesn’t meet the demands of the union in the next few days, Shanklin said, it leaves the union no choice but to ask some of its labor force to not go into work.

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