Mar 292008
 

Oakland Tribune – March 2008

Longshore worker jobs are extremely tough to land at the Port of Oakland, and it’s only going to get tougher with new rules from the Department of Homeland Security, experts predict.

The Pacific Maritime Association — the agency that negotiates labor contracts with terminal operators and steamship companies — has a wait list with 4,300 names for longshore work. Longshoremen may receive calls for work at the ports of San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond or Benicia.

Jobs open up about every few years. PMA meets quarterly with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents longshoremen, to discuss employment needs.

“We discuss whether there are more opportunities for labor based on cargo growth,” said William Bartelson, the PMA area manager for Northern California. “We agreed that we would exhaust that (wait) list before we took in new applications.”

In 2002, the PMA and the union negotiated a six-year agreement that expires this year. Bartelson said the two sides can agree to extend the list or create a new one when the current agreement expires. However, since more than 4,000 people have been on the list for years, neither option seems likely.

“No one can get ahead of the line,” Bartelson said.

When jobs do open up, an applicant has to take tests for strength, balance and agility. At every level of advancement, the worker must pass drug and alcohol examinations and safety training.

Local 10 represents 1,402 longshoremen at the four seaports, 239 lead clerks (who check the records of containers as they come on and off the vessels), and 85 walking bosses (foremen).

Jo-Ann Yoshioka George, supervisor of Employment Resources Development at the Port of Oakland, screens applicants for jobs at the port and for its many tenants. The Port of Oakland does not employ longshoremen, yet job seekers still call her about such positions.

“Everybody wants to be a longshoreman because they hear about the good pay and these jobs don’t require a high school diploma,” she said.

Under the 2007-2008 wage scale, available at http://www.pmanet.org, beginners earn $22.11 an hour while those with 4,000 or more hours of service earn $30.68 an hour. Overtime pay can significantly enhance these amounts.

These jobs have rarely required background checks, George said, making them attractive to ex-offenders and those with criminal records.

However, that will change this year under Department of Homeland Security rules to protect access to ports. The Maritime Security Act requires background checks for any worker who has access to secured areas of regulated ports. Workers must also enroll for biometric identification cards, the so-called Transportation Workers Identification Credential, or TWIC.

These procedures will exclude people with certain felonies who previously found jobs as longshore workers. The TWIC program is targeting terrorists, and specifically those who have been convicted of espionage, sedition, treason, or any crime involving transportation security or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes. Also anyone involved in extortion, immigration violations, rape and arson will be disqualified for port work for seven years after conviction or for five years after release.

“TWIC will definitely affect us,” Bartelson said. “There will be an appeals process and some longshoremen will be denied cards. Labor is probably duly concerned.”

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