An open letter to members of the SEIU 1021 who work at the Port of Oakland

To our fellow workers,

We understand that this Wednesday, December 5, you will be voting on a contract for your labor at the Port of Oakland. We do not know the details of this contract, and only you can decide if what they offer is worth your labor at this point in time. However, as people who have and will continue to fight alongside you, we would like to respectfully ask that you consider some points before you cast your ballot.

The entirety of this letter is to argue that you are in a position of great power in this situation that is unparalleled in recent history.

The strike action taken at the Port of Oakland on Tuesday, November 20 was powerful. The Port Commission was undoubtedly shaken by your willingness to withhold your labor, the fierce support of your coworkers on the ports, and the larger  community. The fact that they wanted to revisit negotiations after nearly a year shows that they do not want this type of tactic to continue or to escalate. This is still the most powerful weapon that an organized workforce has. We were glad to help organize and carry through two shut downs at the Port of Oakland last year.  This collaboration and solidarity is quite obviously a threat to those who profit from the work that we do.

The nearly monumental battle of Longview, WA and the port shutdowns waged by the Occupy movement have clearly shifted the dynamic between workers and their employers. There have been unprecedented actions taken by workers nationwide. Even Walmart is facing uprisings of workers, despite their tireless preparation and dedication to quashing any organizing efforts before those efforts even start. Workers in Chicago occupied their workplace and won an opportunity to form a cooperative of the same company that threatened to close and leave them jobless. Food workers at the Oakland airport are fighting for their right to organize and gain a wage which is legally obligated to them. Pleasanton’s Castlewood Country Club, ended a years-long lockout and are bending to the power of the workers. There was success in getting people back to their jobs at Pacific Steel in Berkeley. Port truck drivers in Seattle staged wildcat strikes in a bold organizing push. You don’t have to look too hard to find workers standing up and bosses backing down (at least as much as they need to quiet workers’ unrest).

LA/Long Beach, the largest Ports on the west coast,  are currently being held at standstill by striking clerical workers with the support of their coworkers on the ports. Northewestern Longshore workers, joined by a host of organizers and activists, are poised to strike over the grain handling contract. These particular situations make the Port of Oakland even more vulnerable to your efforts and needs. Ships intended for ports in turmoil will be rerouted to other ports on the same coast. As you can see, there are not many options left on our coast. Those who profit most from your work are facing a serious problem if the Port of LA/Longbeach and the Port of Oakland are brought to a halt at the same time. If the ports in the Pacific Northwest were also blocked, picketed, or slowed down, there would be a potentially catastrophic situation for the capital that feeds Wall Street on the Waterfront.
As if this weren’t enough, the Port Commission has had no success in veiling the corruption that is at play with money made possible by your labor and rightly belonging to the community that harbors this industry. While port officials are out philandering and hemorrhaging money generated from our port, they are closing our children’s schools, cutting social programs and waging an all out attack on funding for our communities. This is one of the more reprehensible moments of Oakland’s social elite’s flaunting their power and greed on the backs of and at the expense of the rest of us.

We hope that you will feel, as we do, that the Port Commission is in no position to be offering anything less than what your labor is worth. You are, in fact, in the position to organize for wage increases, better conditions, benefits, etc. and you should: we all would. Should you be inclined, you are also in a position to consider ways in which you could more adequately control your workplace, work environment, and what happens with the many, many millions of dollars that your labor generates. There are masses– many more than have come thus far– ready to stand with you should you push on. We know that your fight is our fight. Do not be undersold by your union leadership, who for various reasons can be overly focused on the task of reaching a settlement. This day belongs to you, the workers: please consider the possibilities afforded by your current leverage. Accept no concessions or meager gains. Fight for a life you want to live.

Respectfully,

Some folks who have organized with port workers, helped shut down the ports three times, stood shoulder to shoulder with you on November 20, and will stand with you again

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~ by portsolidarity on December 4, 2012.

5 Responses to “An open letter to members of the SEIU 1021 who work at the Port of Oakland”

  1. Hey Folks, this is Alysabeth (rank and file) from SEIU 1021. I worked really closely with some of you, invited you into our union hall and am really grateful for your solidarity. I’m here with some of my co-workers and we’re not quite sure how to understand this letter. We would love to talk. Please call or email me! 🙂

  2. (Sorry–I don’t know how to send a private message and don’t know who wrote this.)

  3. Hi Alysabeth,

    My name is Gino Pepi.

    I support this letter addressed to workers at the Port of Oakland. I didn’t write it, didn’t edit it and haven’t distributed it. I am speaking here as an individual, but also as an active supporter of the Port Workers Assembly and the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee. I have distributed the Port Workers Assembly newsletter to many workers at the Port of Oakland and at the Oakland Airport.

    I would help distribute this letter about the contract, but have prior political commitments I made to work on my own current union organizing (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981), work in support of the Oscar Grant Committee, work with the Justice for Alan Blueford Committee and work with transit workers in the Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 308 on their contract vote issues in Chicago, but not limited thereto.

    What happens at the Port of Oakland affects all of us. It is an economic engine that generates a lot of wealth and is a massive public subsidy for the shipping, retail, air transport and logistics companies that operate at all the Port of Oakland facilities and properties.

    I am a retired BART worker (a station agent), former member of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, former shop steward (from 1993 to 2002) and vice president of ATU Local 1555 from 1993 to the end of 1995. I opposed our contract settlement in 1994, was the only person on our negotiating committee to do so and helped organize and lead our 1997 strike, working with all the unions at BART. We were on strike for a week, so believe me when I tell you, I know what a strike is. I filed and helped win many grievances, arbitrations and improved contracts.

    The caucus we built in ATU Local 1555 actively defended Ray Quan when he was fired by BART. I was on the picket line for the previous port shutdowns and at the afternoon SEIU picket line on 11/20/2012. I worked with and know Steve Gilbert, Ray Quan and Roxanne Sanchez from BART. I worked on BART joint negotiations committees with other former SEIU 790 leaders and know current leaders of your union. We don’t agree on every issue, but have always had civil relations. I know Al Loera and discussed this contract situation with him and Steve Gilbert (briefly), as well as other people in the SEIU port chapter.

    I know many of your officers, union reps and members from being a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council and the Alameda Labor Council.

    Many members of the Port Workers Assembly were on the 11/20/2012 picket line and I leave it to them to contact you as I have. When I was taking a picture of the picket line from the street, I was pushed by someone, who told me to get out of the way of the SEIU photographer. I didn’t react at all to that person, just continued taking a picture. Later I discovered that my glass frames had been broken. I’ve had them fixed, for a minimal price.

    I would be happy to talk to you about this letter. You can contact me at gino625@hotmail.com. It’s clear where to contact the Port Workers Assembly from our newsletter.

    Ciao4Solidarity, Gino

  4. This letter was attempting to make an argument in a respectful way to our sisters and brothers in our common struggle. We do not intend to pretend that we know in which ways you could push the potential of what can be gained aside from compensation and that is why it was somewhat vague in regards to specifically what could be brought about. This is an attempt to explain.

    The argument in this letter is two part:

    First- take no concessions and win gains. This will positively impact the future compensation of other workers and is therefore a gain for us all.

    Second- if ever there was a time for that a group of workers was in a position of power over their employers, it is this group and now.

    As to the second part, which presumably is the part that folks are unsure of:

    One of the most exciting things about the recent teacher’s strike in Chicago, aside from the magnitude of it, was that when they went out on strike their demands included items regarding control of their workplaces (the schools). They were not only attempting to make gains for themselves as employees but for the community that they were a part of. Making steps toward this type of bargaining would be huge for our entire class.

    Realizing that there are some legal issues regarding striking over issues other than compensation, there are a couple points to consider. One, the port of Oakland was shut down twice without negative legal repercussions to the unions. Two, we need to remember that unions were brought to be outside of legal means and the law that has legitimized them has also weakened them.

    It should be considered that the powerful position SEIU workers find themselves in is in large part due to a popular uprising of working and marginalized communities. We would encourage all workers who find themselves in this position to look toward the possibility of making gains for the class as a whole.

    Is it possible for workers (especially in the public sector) to demand that a minimum percentage of the profit generated by their labor be spent on keeping schools open, or libraries, or maintaining parks? To demand an opportunity to determine how the fruit of their labor is used? Is it possible to say that the port won’t operate until there is justice for Alan Blueford? Is it even possible to take steps toward workers’ complete democratic control of their workplaces ?

    We would argue that anything is possible.

  5. w00t!!

    “We would encourage all workers who find themselves in this position to look toward the possibility of making gains for the class as a whole.”

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