New London Longshoremen Say State Pier Labor Agreement Shuts Union Out of Work

NEW LONDON — When materials for the redevelopment of State Pier came into port from overseas, the longshoremen from the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1411 who have worked the harbor since the 1930s weren’t included in a labor agreement to unload the cargo.

On Saturday, a group of local longshoremen — many out of work for more than a year — gathered to protest being passed over for work. 

Peter Olsen, the financial secretary and former president of Local 1411, said the longshoremen feel pushed out since the pier closed for redevelopment in spring 2020. 

But according to Teresa Shada, a spokesperson for Kiewit – the Omaha, Nebraska-based contractor that the Connecticut Port Authority selected to manage the $235 million renovation of the pier into a hub for building offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean – the ship was unloaded by union workers from Operating Engineers and Carpenters. 

Shada explained that Kiewit’s contract with the port authority required it to make a project labor agreement with the Norwich-New London Building Trades Council, to ensure that local, union workers are employed in the major infrastructure project.

Because the ILA is not a member of that council,Shada said, it’s not a part of the labor agreement, and wasn’t asked to work either of the two ships that brought in supplies for the project. 

According to Shadam the ILA also hasn’t contacted Kiewit looking for work on the project.

Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director John Henshaw said that the authority wasn’t involved in negotiating the labor agreement, beyond requiring that one be negotiated. He said it was his understanding that the ILA had an opportunity to participate in the labor agreement – which is the only way to get work on the project.

Olsen said that he had been in meetings with carpenters and other union laborers where a project labor agreement for the State Pier development was mentioned, but said the ILA was never asked to be a part of it. He said those agreements usually involve the building trades, so the longshoremen hadn’t been involved in one before.

“We were never asked to be part of the agreement, and we never thought we had to, because when you’re offloading a ship, that’s not construction. Construction is what happens on the pier,” Olsen said. “I can’t seem to get that point across to anybody.”

Olsen said CPA should have insisted that its contract with Kiewit include a provision that the ILA workers should handle the ships coming in and out of the port.

“We were given a charter down there for the International [Longshoreman’s Association], approved by the state back in the 1930s, that we should be the labor,” Olsen said. “It’s a pretty cut and dried view from my eyes.”

New London Mayor Michael Passero said that he was still trying to figure out why the ILA wasn’t used to unload the cargo ships, since he believed stevedoring work at the pier should be theirs.

Olsen said that over the 40 years he’s worked at the pier, automation has made less and less work available for longshoremen. When he started working in the 1970s, more than 100 people would work to unload a ship. Now, there are around 30 people on a shift, he said.

“When Gateway [Terminal] was given the 20-year lease, we went from about 80 people – which we had for about 20 years when we were working with Logistec – down to about 45 when we had the last ship,” Olsen said. “Now there’s about 32 of us left, hoping that our trade comes back, but we can’t seem to make any inroads with Gateway or the Port Authority.”

For a long time, the pier gave its union longshoremen, who Olsen said all live within about 30 minutes of the pier, “a lot of work for a few people, and some work for a lot of people.” 

Most of the longshoremen were part-time, and effectively day laborers. They came in when a ship came in, and then worked 12 hours to get the ship unloaded and back out to sea as quickly as possible, he said.

The longshoremen at New London were laid off in the spring of 2020, when the pier shut down to allow for redevelopment – a move that also displaced businesses like DRVN, a road salt distributor that imported salt through New London. Since then, there hasn’t been any work for the longshoremen, and Gateway hasn’t asked any of them to help out in New Haven, either, Olsen said.

The longshoremen couldn’t just sit and wait for two or more years for the renovations of the pier to finish so they could get back to work, and many have moved on to other jobs, Olsen said. When they gathered at the pier on Saturday to protest the pilings being unloaded without their labor, they were about a dozen strong, he said. 

“My feeling is that Gateway is probably not going to invite us back down [to the New London State Pier],” Olsen said. “It’s going to be a tough fight a couple years from now when the construction upgrades are done.”

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