The president of a dock workers’ union local that nine days ago authorized its leaders to call a strike has told Port of Toledo officials that no strike is planned, but it’s a weapon the union may wield to combat what it considers discrimination by the port’s stevedore company.
Otis Smith, president of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1982, said Midwest Terminals of Toledo International is “trying to eliminate us” and said racism against the predominantly minority local is involved in why the company has settled contracts with Teamsters Local 20 and ILA Local 1768 but not with his local’s membership.
“We are a 97 percent minority union,” Mr. Smith told the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority’s Board of Directors on Thursday. “The other two unions [at the docks] are 100 percent white.”
Mr. Smith also accused Midwest Terminals of being $680,000 in arrears for funding the union’s health-and-welfare program and of disregarding seniority rules and other provisions of the labor contract that expired Dec. 31.
Midwest Terminals officials, however, said the company’s contract with Local 1982 expired at the end of 2010 and that the company has chosen not to participate in a mult-employer “master agreement” that expired Dec. 31.
Mr. Smith told the board that racially discriminatory actions have continued during contract negotiations since Dec. 31.
“We’re not intending to strike. We’re doing everything we can to avoid a strike,” he told the port board, then added during a follow-up interview that Midwest has not offered the same terms to Local 1982 that it did to the other unions and has “said, in so many words, ‘you can go on strike.’”
In response, Alex Johnson, Midwest Terminals’ president, issued a statement stating that the company had successfully negotiated three previous contracts with Local 1982 “which had a similar demographic profile as the current local has.
“This is proof of our willingness to bargain in good faith with the union,” Mr. Johnson wrote.
Mr. Johnson calculated the 45-member local’s ethnicity as 17 percent white and 83 percent minority, and said that while five members of Local 1982 filed charges against Midwest with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2009 and 2011, all of those charges were dismissed and none has been filed since or is otherwise pending.
Local 1982 enjoys “a high hourly pay rate” and “an upper-level medical and pension benefits package,” the Midwest president wrote.
In response to follow-up questions, Terry Leach, the company’s director of operations, said Friday that health care for both ILA locals at the docks is paid for by the company through a union plan, that the pension is fully funded, and seniority rules “have not been disregarded in a discriminatory fashion” and are based on hours worked the previous season.
“We acknowledge that the union has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges with the [National Labor Relations Board] concerning seniority, but all seniority charges have either been withdrawn by the union or dismissed by the NLRB as lacking in merit,” Mr. Leach said.
Mr. Smith said another such complaint is pending and scheduled for adjudication by the labor board May 7.
Dick Gabel, an ILA vice president on the port authority’s board of directors, said he didn’t consider the conflict between Local 1982 and Midwest to be a race issue.
“They just can’t get a contract negotiated. But it’s been going on long enough,” he said. “... Each of the other docks [unions] signed a contract right away because they didn’t have any arguments.”
Teamsters Local 20 represents workers at a metals warehouse that is part of the general cargo docks complex, while ILA Local 1768 mainly represents longshoremen at the CSX railroad docks but also includes a few workers at the Midwest Terminals stone dock, Mr. Gabel said.
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