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Dockworkers Take May Day Off, Idling All West Coast Ports

by Louis Sahagun

Thousands of dockworkers at all 29 West Coast ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, took the day off work today in what their union called a protest of the war in Iraq, effectively shutting down operations at the busy complexes.

The action came two months before the contract expires between the dockworkers, represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents port operators and large shippers, many of them foreign-owned.

"We are supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it's time to end the war in Iraq," said union President Bob McEllrath.

McEllrath, whose comments came in a press release handed out by union officials in the Port of Los Angeles area, said rank-and-file members decided in early January to stand down on May 1.

The dockworkers' action also affected ports in Oakland, Seattle and San Diego, and was expected to last between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The dockworkers do virtually all the work involved in loading and unloading freight between ships and the port, handling containers brimming with toys, clothing, computers and automobiles.

As a result, big rig operators were being turned away at terminal gates. Among them was Santo Calderon, 48, who was turned away at the TraPac terminal in San Pedro.

He was greeted by a security guard who simply said, "We're closed."

Before climbing back into his truck cab and leaving, Calderon shook his head and said, "I'm going to call my dispatcher and see if there is some other place open. If not, I'll go back to the yard and rest the whole day. There is nothing else to do."

Asked to explain why he was turning trucks away, a TraPac security guard, with a wave of his hand, simply said, "What you see behind me is all I can say about what's going on."

He was referring to the rare sight of 400-foot cranes standing still and harbor roads devoid of truck traffic, empty parking lots and an eerie quiet on the waterfront.

The Pacific Maritime Assn. had complained about the union's planned action with an arbitrator, which had ordered the union to go to work today. The maritime association said the union's activity was a violation of its contract obligation.

A dispute between the maritime association and the dockworkers paralyzed West Coast ports for 10 days in 2002.

Two years ago today, activity at the ports was crippled when thousands of truckers stayed away from work in protest of U.S. immigration policy. The port truck drivers -- predominantly Latinos -- acted individually in participating in the "Day Without Immigrants," which also shuttered thousands of Latino-owned businesses throughout the region and country.

At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest, as few as 10% of the truckers showed up to haul freight that day. Longshore workers, however, continued loading and unloading ships.

Times staff writer Ron-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Los Angeles Times

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