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Dispute between union, Lake Charles Stevedores leads to short work stoppage

Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 8:00 PM

By Lance Traweek / American Press

About 200 workers walked off the job Thursday at the Port of Lake Charles over a dispute between a local labor union and Lake Charles Stevedores.

Glenn Lewis, business agent at International Longshoreman’s Association Local 2047, said the workers stopped unloading the three ships after the company brought in a gang of workers from Houston instead of using the local workforce.

Lewis said that bringing in the outside group is a violation of the union’s contract with Lake Charles Stevedores.

On Thursday morning, Lewis showed up at the City Docks with the local work gang after receiving word the night before that the Houston gang would be there.

“We peacefully stood by. I wanted to show them we had the local labor here and were ready to go to work,” Lewis told the American Press on Thursday.

He said he asked that the gang from Houston be removed from the vessel and the local gang be put to work in its place. Instead, port police arrived to escort the local group off the premises.

But not only did the one local gang leave the property, every gang — about 200 men — from Local 2047 left the City Docks and went to union headquarters on Church Street.

“As union members we stick together,” Lewis said. “It is better for all of us to work than some of us to work.”

Union officials began negotiating with company executives over the phone. The shutdown lasted about an hour and was resolved after it was decided the gang from Houston would be removed. The local gangs returned to work.

Lewis said Lake Charles Stevedores was “retaliating” against the union because of an incident that occurred three weeks ago when a local worker called the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration because of safety issues regarding a crane. Lewis said the union did not call OSHA but that one worker, who is part of the union, called OSHA on behalf of himself — not the union.

OSHA arrived Wednesday and met with company representatives and union officials. No complaints by OSHA have been filed.

“I would rather see our guys work than outside labor come in and take these jobs,” Lewis said. “It has always been a constant fight with Lake Charles Stevedores.”

But the owner of Lake Charles Stevedores, Tom Flanagan, said no breach of contract was made by his company. In fact, he said, the workers violated their contract because “they do not have the right for a work stoppage.”

Flanagan said the gang coming from Houston “was not a retaliation at all” but simply an effort to meet the workforce needs for the day.

“We have a problem with the longshoreman reporting for work,” Flanagan said by phone Thursday.

He said the labor issues that occurred Thursday are a result of the longshoremen not showing up Thursdays and Fridays.

“Thursdays are payday, and when longshoremen are paid on Thursdays they have a bad track record of showing up on Thursdays and Fridays,” Flanagan said. “For that reason we occasionally bring in additional workers to meet peak demands.”

Flanagan said the Port of Lake Charles is busy at this time, with three large shipments going out simultaneously.

“By Sunday there will be a fourth ship,” he said. “There is a record number of tons and workers at this time working at the port as compared to recent years. A lot of work has gone in to attract this work, which benefits the workers very much. We have an obligation. It is the company’s responsibility to make sure that the shipping schedules are met, cargos are unloaded and loaded in accordance with the customers’ requirements.”

Flanagan also said the whole issue resulted in about an hour’s lost work.

“It’s not a big deal except for the fact that the union has a responsibility to work as ordered, and they do not have a right to do a work stoppage,” he said. “All shipments in the port are and will remain on schedule.”

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