Bay Area unions support Alcatraz ferry workers

SAN FRANCISCO — A thousand workers from unions throughout the Bay Area joined in a march and rally on this city’s historic waterfront Dec. 9. The action supported union workers who lost their jobs when ferry service to Alcatraz Island was taken over by a nonunion company. Local 10, the ILWU’s longshore local, called a “stop-work meeting,” halting all Bay Area maritime cargo handling except the Concord Naval Weapons Station during the day shift.

The workers’ struggle began in fall 2005, when the Bush administration’s National Park Service chose the nonunion Hornblower Yachts to replace the unionized firm which for years had operated the ferry service to Alcatraz. Alcatraz is a Park Service national historic lanmark.

Displaced were 50 workers, members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) — the Marine Division of the ILWU — and the Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP), who had been employed on the Alcatraz run.

After a year of legal and other struggles to block the move, including efforts by soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support the workers, Hornblower began operating the ferry last September. The unions have been picketing Hornblower’s facilities, and they are urging a boycott of the Alcatraz ferries.

Hornblower head Terry MacRae “wants to be the Wal-Mart of the harbor,” said IBU member Ty Willis, a worker on another cruise fleet, as he waited for the march to start. While Hornblower seeks to slash the pay and benefits of the ferry workers, it is raising the price to ferry riders, he said.

“We’ve had people up and down the coast support us — even a busload of Russian tourists said they wouldn’t go to Alcatraz,” Willis added.

Picking up on the international solidarity theme, Robert Estrada, a 21-year waterfront worker displaced after five years on the Alcatraz run, said the situation is being watched “not only by workers here, but all over the world. We’ve received support from England, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.”

Estrada marched with his wife, Liza Estrada, and their 5-year-old daughter, Christiana. Despite the disruption experienced by his own family, Robert Estrada’s biggest concern was the broader threat to the waterfront community. “We don’t want a return to the situation in the 1930s,” he said.

As she prepared to lead the march, Marina Secchitano, the IBU’s San Francisco regional director, called the situation with Hornblower part of “the Bush administration’s attack on all workers.” But, she added, “The ILWU, organized labor and working people have turned the tide on the Bush administration and won’t stand for this anymore.”

Joining the IBU on the march were members of area ILWU longshore, warehouse and clerks’ locals as well as SEIU janitors and public workers, bus drivers, hotel and restaurant workers, building trades workers, machinists, teamsters, office and professional workers.

Many speakers and participants evoked the earlier dramatic history of the area, including the historic 1934 San Francisco general strike in which unionists throughout the city came to the support of longshore workers brutally attacked by police.

The unions are demanding that all the displaced workers be rehired under their former employment conditions with back pay and benefits, and that the unions be recognized under the successorship doctrine.

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