NEW LONDON – The UHL Fierce returned to State Pier with a second shipment of 318-foot blades from Denmark for the South Fork Wind project under development by the partnership of Eversource and Ørsted, but longshoremen weren’t unloading them on Wednesday.
Instead, the members of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1411 in New London were outside the gate picketing – joined by hundreds of ILA longshoremen from locals stretching from Virginia to Maine, all protesting the decision to award work on the pier’s new heavy-lift crane to another union.
Jim Paylor, ILA assistant general organizer and co-chair of the ILA’s wind committee, told the assembled crowd that the fight in New London was bigger than New London. And New London longshoremen’s problem was all longshoremen’s problem.
“If you give up the crane operation, then in every location along the East Coast where they’re gonna have wind, they’ll want to use the Operating Engineers to perform our work to load and unload vessels,” Paylor said. “If we allow that to happen, that will start a slippery slope where they can say they’re involved in our jurisdiction, and all the crane operators that we have that do a fabulous job could be threatened by that.”
Ørsted dismissed the protest as a jurisdictional dispute between the ILA and the Operating Engineers, but for the longshoremen climbed aboard buses in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and across the eastern seaboard to join the protest, it was a fight to protect their claim to work stevedoring for the offshore wind industry across the coast.
At the center of the issue is a 500-foot tall, green crane Siemens Gamesa shipped to New London to load the massive turbines onto ships to bring them out to the South Fork site off the coast of Long Island.
The longshoremen say operating that crane should be their work, but a project labor agreement with the Connecticut State Building Trades Council assigns that work to the Operating Engineers.
Paylor told the crowd that it’s a piece of equipment that isn’t being used in ports across the East Coast, but it performs a similar function.
“It takes the cargo from the hooking off point, and puts it in a place of rest. That’s our work,” Paylor said. “The cranes are our work.”
After the pier shut down in spring 2020, the longshoremen who have worked there since the 1930s were out of work. It was three years before they had more work at the pier, and ILA 1411 business manager Peter Olsen said he thinks most people expected the ILA to just go away.
They didn’t go away, but Olsen said the problem now is that nobody in the local is trained to use the crane.
He said he’s been asking Ørsted to get them trained for three years, and they haven’t. Ørsted said they have “repeatedly” offered funding for training that the ILA rejected. Recently, he said the port operator Gateway Terminal stepped in and sent a group of ILA 1411 workers to Texas to get the training, but the labor agreement has already given that work to someone else.
“Before my time they had steam winches. In my time we just did regular winches, and then they brought cranes in, so we’ve been evolving with the industry,” Olsen said. “To say we can’t run that train was ridiculous to me. Give us the training and we will perform as good or better than anyone else.”
Keith Brothers, president of the Connecticut Building Trades, who negotiated the labor agreement on behalf of member unions including the Operating Engineers, said they consider the cranes and any other work in the lay down area to be their construction work.
“The equipment and everything coming off the vessels clearly is their work, but once that hits the ground and they give it to us to assemble, that’s all covered under the labor agreement, and it’s exclusively building trades work,” Brothers said. “So you can claim whatever you want, but without qualified people to do the work, I’m just surprised that they’re even trying to claim it.”
Allison Ziogas, Ørsted’s head of U.S. Labor Relations, said in a written statement that the issue is a “jurisdictional dispute” between the two unions, and Ørsted can’t be the arbiter. But Olsen said his issue isn’t with another union, it’s with Ørsted not honoring the ILA’s jurisdiction.
“Anything I say is against the developer. I’m not against any other unions,” Olsen said. “They’re just doing what somebody asked them to do. We’re just saying that for our work, historically and going forward, we’re not going down without a fight.”
He even declined to name the other union in the dispute to CT Examiner, though others didn’t have the same hesitation.
“The Operating Engineers are a bunch of fucking rat mother-fucking scumbags,” one longshoreman from Baltimore told the crowd, to loud applause.
Brothers said the Operating Engineers were given that piece of work because they have people trained to use the equipment. He said the building trades build things. They aren’t looking to operate the port or take longshoremen’s jobs, but they aren’t going to stand by when the longshoremen try to claim their work, Brothers said.
“Today, clearly we walked through the picket line and went to work,” Brothers said. “We have an agreement, so that’s what we did.”
Hundreds of longshoremen gathered at the pier, many brought in on buses. Workers with the accents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore chanted “ILA” and “go away” as New London Police directed workers through the crowd onto the pier.
Brothers said he represents Connecticut workers, and said it was a “shame” that people from out of state were blocking Connecticut residents from entering the job site.
“That’s a fight against yourself, I believe,” Brothers said. “If that’s what the ILA wants to do… They need to be a part of the solution, that this morning was a problem.”
Olsen said the ILA is looking to grow its membership and get people trained. They don’t just want the jobs sweeping up the pier, he said – they want the work they’ve been doing at the pier since the 1930s. He said a strong ILA is essential to keeping the pier operating smoothly.
On a recent Sunday they had a delay on site. Another ship was coming in, but they didn’t think they could get anything done until Monday. Olsen said he got a call around 3 p.m. asking if a crew could come down. By 5 p.m. they were down at the pier offloading the ship.
“I can’t overstate the importance of the ILA having a local workforce,” Olsen said. “They need to keep things moving.”