June 11, 2022

Joe Biden went to the port of Los Angeles on Friday, June 10, to make a speech about the economy.

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Nothing odd there.  The stock market is down 15% so far this year, inflation is skyrocketing, and energy prices are so high that the unemployed can’t afford the commute if they accept a job.  An administration is expected to address these matters.

Unfortunately, in this case, virtually all the problems are caused by the very positions on which this regime is doubling down. 

And of all the indelicate, inopportune times and places to choose for this speech, he headed to the busiest, most important seaport in the Americas, twenty days before the deadline crashes down on the most delicate labor negotiation of the year.

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All laborers on the west coast seaports belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).  While some of them still do the heavy, physical jobs of traditional shipping, the lion’s share of this industry was changed, some seventy years ago, with the advent of containerization and the growth of intermodal transportation.

Instead of the backbreaking work of hand-loading crates, drums, and boxes on and off the deck and hold of a ship, the vast majority of ILWU members are now involved in directing machinery — such as gantry cranes — to swing 20′ and 40′ shipping containers from ship to shore and back again.

ILWU members include clerks, longshoremen, crane operators, and other terminal workers — 15,000 of them — all up and down the west coast, from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California.

It’s not easy work, but it’s well compensated; the typical ILWU member earns about $200,000 per year (since that’s an average, there are union members who earn under $100,000 and members who earn over $300,000, depending on specialty, hours, overtime, and seniority).  There have long been ILWU members who fly into work on their own private planes.

This is not your typical union.

Their employers are a similarly mixed bag of organizations — the port terminals, the steamship lines, the warehouses and logistics conglomerates that either own their own berths or are contracted by city and state port authorities to operate public berths.  Some are massive global concerns; others are smaller niche carriers or local terminal companies.  With 29 seaports of various sizes, handling the import and export of everything from bulk materials to automobiles, there is every level of diversity imaginable up and down the coast.