NY, NJ longshoremen on strike despite court order over Del Monte work dispute

By David Porter, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Longshoremen on strike in NJ, NY over produce work

NEWARK, N.J. — Longshoremen were on strike Wednesday at ports in New Jersey and New York in defiance of a judge’s order, leaving at least a dozen ships waiting to off-load cargo containers for a second day and forcing truckers to cool their heels or return shipments to their senders.

The work stoppage stems from a dispute between the International Longshoremen’s Association and Del Monte Fresh Products over the company’s decision to relocate from a terminal in Camden to one in Gloucester City in southern New Jersey.

“I’ve been sitting here since yesterday morning,” said Bobby Noyes from the cab of a truck hauling more than 30,000 pounds of Hershey’s chocolate to Port Newark for shipment to Seoul, South Korea.

“I’m ready to turn around — if I’m going to go broke, it’s cheaper to go broke at home,” Noyes said just before putting the truck in gear and heading back to Hershey. Noyes said he won’t get paid unless the delivery is completed.

Longshoremen say Del Monte is trying to undercut the union by first cutting pay and then moving the jobs, but the company insists the new terminal is fully unionized.

“They’re taking family-sustaining jobs with health insurance and they’re turning them into garbage,” said ILA member Charlie Mahoney, who traveled from Philadelphia to protest in Brooklyn, where his red Phillies cap stood out. “If it happened to us, it can happen here.”

Philadelphia ILA members tossed pineapples into the Delaware River in protest on Labor Day.

“We’re worried that it’ll be like a cancer,” said Anthony Velardo, a union member at Port Newark who operates machinery that takes the containers off the ships and loads them into waiting trucks. “It’ll start small and then grow, and what happened in Philly can happen here and all our jobs could go somewhere else.”

Dionysios Christou, a spokesman for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce’s, said the union is misrepresenting the company’s reason for switching ports and says that $10 million worth of perishable cargo is at risk because of the work stoppage.

“Contrary to the ILA’s claims, Del Monte’s decision to relocate from Camden to Gloucester Terminals is based primarily on the fact that it has outgrown the Camden facility,” he said in a statement. “Del Monte determined that there is not enough room in Camden to handle its anticipated growth, both now and in the future.”

Christou said the Camden facility has cargo capacity of under 10,000 pallets, compared with more than 40,000 in Glocuester.

“Growth means jobs, union jobs paying family-sustaining wages, for the people who work at the Gloucester facility,” he said. “Contrary to the union’s claims, Gloucester Terminals LLC is fully unionized. In fact, there are many more union jobs at Gloucester today than there are at Camden.”

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise granted the request of the New York Shipping Association, an organization that represents cargo carriers, terminal operators and other marine-related businesses, for a temporary restraining order to force the longshoremen back to work. The shippers argued that the work stoppage violates a no-strike clause in its contract with the ILA.

“I am not going to try to explain, and certainly not defend, the strategy of the ILA which is today defying the order of Federal Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise to discontinue honoring the picket lines manned by out of town longshoremen,” NYSA president Joseph Curto said in a statement. “This action is causing deep economic harm to many innocent parties. Losses being experienced by the ocean carriers alone who have ships idled in the harbor are totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.”

A spokesman and attorneys for the ILA did not return phone messages Wednesday.

The two sides are scheduled to appear before Debevoise on Oct. 6.

Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J., and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this story.

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