NEW LONDON – Turbine blades are stacked on their supports at the edge of the State Pier Monday morning, with a barge docked ready to carry them out to a wind farm construction site off Long Island.
But the longshoremen aren’t loading them onto the barge. They’re outside the gate, which is locked, blocked with a block of granite, and with a blue International Longshoremen’s Association “ILA” banner attached to the chain-link fence.
The longshoremen said the turbines – which would the first shipped from the $310 million redeveloped pier – won’t be loaded onto the barge to ship out to Eversource and Ørsted’s South Fork Wind until the Danish energy giant comes back to the table and lets them run the massive cranes and vehicles that move the turbine pieces around.
“[Ørsted] has set up a couple meetings, and they’ve backed out of them,” ILA Local 1411 business manager Peter Olsen said. “This is trying to get them to recognize our jurisdiction down here, loading, offloading, and moving cargo around.”
The scene was quieter than when hundreds of longshoremen from Virginia to Maine came to the Pier in September making the same demands. Jim Paylor, ILA assistant general organizer and co-chair of the ILA’s wind committee, said this time it’s not a protest, it’s a strike. They won’t make the same kind of noise, but they won’t be pushed around either, he said.
Paylor said the longshoremen don’t believe Ørsted has been negotiating with them in good faith, and he wouldn’t even describe the discussions as negotiations. He said the longshoremen had an agreement to meet with Ørsted and other stakeholders to work through the issues on Thursday, but Ørsted backed out, sparking the strike.
Ørsted said Monday that the meeting was postponed until the ILA resolves “fundamental issues” over their “jurisdictional dispute” with the Operating Engineers, one of the building trades that signed a Project Labor Agreement for work on the wind projects at State Pier.
Ørsted made the same argument Monday as it did in September, saying the ILA is protesting a project that is putting 30 local longshoremen to work “loading and unloading offshore wind energy components.” Allison Ziogas, Head of Labor Relations for Ørsted, said the ILA’s dispute with the Operating Engineers is over two parts of the work that “the ILA is not qualified to handle.”
“We remain disappointed that the ILA leadership has refused our offers to fund ILA training so that the local ILA can compete for those scopes in the future,” Ziogas said in a written statement. “This unproductive protest deprives ILA dockers of a day’s wages and fails to advance a solution to their jurisdictional dispute.”
Training to use the specialized equipment is the key issue, but the longshoremen dispute that Ørsted put in a real effort to get them trained.
Olsen said he first contacted Ørsted in December 2020 about training the local longshoremen to run offshore wind equipment.
“Now they’re saying we don’t have the training,” Olsen said with a laugh. “Three years ago we would’ve had the training.”
With more projects slated to ship from New London next year, Gateway New London – the terminal operator at State Pier – has stepped in to send Local 1411 workers to Texas for high altitude crane training, so they can use the cranes at State Pier where they have to climb up 200 feet to the controls, Olsen said.
Paylor said he sent a letter to Ørsted in April 2021 asking to get the training started, and was ignored. At one point, he said they offered $300,000 for training on the “self-propelled modular transporters” used to shuttle the large turbine pieces. But only if the ILA signed away its jurisdiction over the crane.
When the ILA refused, the offer dropped to $50,000, he said.
Ziogas said that ILA refused Ørsted’s offer to fund training unless the longshoremen were given a guarantee they would get the same work on Revolution Wind, set to be assembled at State Pier after South Fork. She said the offer wasn’t contingent on them giving up jurisdiction of the crane work.
“We stand by our offer to invest in the ILA’s training, as we see this as an effective means to assist the ILA to expand its work opportunities,” Ziogas said. “However we need to competitively bid this work to ensure we’re attracting the most capable, safest and efficient services for our projects.”
She said that the unloading and offloading work is already more than the local ILA can handle, and they’ve had to bring in workers from out of state. Yet the ILA is trying to “deprive their union brothers and sisters” in the Operating Engineers of work on the cranes and transports that they are qualified for, Ziogas said.
“The ILA demanded up-front agreement to reassign these two scopes of work away from their rival union,” Ziogas said. “Once trained, the ILA can compete for the two additional scopes they’re disputing.”
It’s not the first time technology has changed stevedoring work, and the ILA has trained and adjusted each time. From block and tackle to steam winches, to electric winches, to cranes on ships, to the cargo cranes used today, the ILA trained to use the new equipment, Paylor said. They can do the same now, he said.
Paylor also disagreed that there is a long-standing jurisdictional dispute between the ILA and Operating Engineers on cranes.
Outside of a disagreement in Chicago where Paylor said building trades wanted to keep using cranes they had used for a port redevelopment to do stevedoring, he said the longshoremen and building trades have worked side-by-side in the past.
In his home port of Philadelphia, he said he worked with building trades on gas pipes. The longshoremen loaded, unloaded and stacked the pipes for storage, and the operating engineers used x-ray to scan the pipes for any leaks, and re-sealed them.
The national ILA, not just the local 1411, is concerned what will happen across the East Coast if the longshoremen in New London can’t keep the work they consider their jurisdiction – loading and unloading ships, and moving cargo to and from a “place of rest” on the pier.
“If it happens here, it’s going to happen everywhere. And the wind is going all down the East Coast, the south Atlantic, and into the west Gulf,” Paylor said. “If we start giving up our jurisdiction in every facility up and down the coast, sooner or later our break bulk will have Operating Engineers, our containers will have Operating Engineers. That’s a slippery slope we can’t afford.”
Right now, the ILA wants to keep things calm and orderly, but the tension between the longshoremen and Ørsted is clear.
Paylor said Ørsted started giving away longshoremen’s work in New London and New Bedford because they’re both small ports with small ILA locals. The ILA 1411 in New London was already dwindling when the pier shut down for years for redevelopment, putting the remaining longshoremen completely out of work – no pay, no insurance, Paylor said.
“They’re a small, decimated union that’s waited patiently for three years as their home is changed from a break bulk facility to a specialty cargo facility,” Paylor said. “And the skilled jobs that will give them security and longevity are being taken away. It’s not right.”
Ørsted wouldn’t try the same thing in New York first, Paylor said. They want to set a precedent they can bring into the larger ports down the East Coast, but the ILA doesn’t want to let a Danish company separate out what has historically been their work, he said.
“When you invite someone into your home, that person doesn’t tell you what you can eat out of your own refrigerator,” Paylor said.