SAN PEDRO, Calif. - Imagine cleaning chemicals off barges, large tank containers, as hazmat workers or ship scalers do, without the proper suit that protects from the specific chemicals they are attempting to clean.
"We work with dangerous chemicals. We have no benefits," said one of those workers, Maria Lapov, here at the largest port in the country. "I am mother and father to my children, if I get sick, I have no medical benefits, my children will suffer."
Another worker, Armando Trujillo, said, "The salary we receive is not enough to sustain us or meet our medical needs. The corporations are benefiting from our labor and we are being paid minimum wage."
These workers, members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 56, are in contract negotiations and are asking the public for support. They said, at a rally here July 27, that they are ready to strike if the giant shipping and port-based corporations do not provide adequate wages and benefits. The contract expires Nov. 4.
Ilugardo Mendoza, longshore worker and president of ILWU Local 56, spoke about the three main demands that include, medical benefits, a livable salary and a pension, and Margarito Suarez faces retirement without a pension. "I am four months away from retirement age of 62, but without a pension plan I am not able to retire because Social Security is not enough to sustain my family and me," Suarez said.
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California Senator Roderick Wright was the first of several legislators to sign the pledge of support, which read, "Count on us! We support the members of Local 56, the ILWU hazmat cleanup team who are: cleaning our harbors, protecting our environment, helping working families in our community and winning fair pay and better benefits for workers."
The state senator said, "The work that you do on the Hazmat team is just as important as other jobs on the port. We have a responsibility to make sure that you are healthy, are able to sustain your family and have a livable pension."
Several Long Beach City Council members also were present and signed the pledge.
Ship scaler Sergio Naboa said, "The neglect that has been past practice is what we are suffering today and is what we are fighting to correct with this struggle. When there are emergencies we are like the Fire department entering the barges to clean up hazardous waste, we have to be very careful and we do not have the necessary equipment to keep us safe."
Other ILWU local presidents and international officers were also on hand to sign the pledge as well as a number of other unions, such as the Brotherhood of Teamsters.
"No contract, no work" is the call for November 4, 2013.
Photo: Members of the public sign a pledge to support ILWU hazmat workers, July 25, Long Beach, Calif. (Rossana Cambron/PW)