WILMINGTON — A lawsuit accusing the longshoremen's union of favoritism in registering members' friends and relatives for dock work instead of experienced workers is the result of too many job seekers and too few jobs, a union leader said this week.
The suit marks the third time in five years that the union has faced a legal challenge to its recruiting practices. It is the second suit filed since 20,000 people lined streets in San Pedro last fall seeking 350 lucrative union positions.
In response to the lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles, Dave Arian, president of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) Local 13, defended the union's selection methods, saying he believes they are fair and non-discriminatory.
"There just aren't jobs for everyone," Arian said. He said a job on the docks is "one of the best labor jobs around. People want it and they'll do anything to get it."
Currently, there are about 2,770 registered longshoremen and 600 cargo clerks at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. On average, a registered longshoreman earned more than $47,000 in 1984, according to figures compiled by the Pacific Maritime Assn., an employers group that participates in the registration process.
Until the late 1960s, people seeking membership in the union had to be sponsored by a union member. Now, however, those seeking jobs on the docks fill out applications, which in turn are scored on such criteria as the person's work experience, education and willingness and ability to perform a variety of jobs. Those who score highest must then pass an interview conducted by the union and the maritime association.
Terry Lane, Southern California manager for the association, said that a variety of factors determine who is best qualified, including experience at jobs relevant to the maritime industry. However, part-time longshoremen are not automatically given preference over applicants who may not have worked on the waterfront but who do have experience in other areas such as operating heavy equipment, he said.
Despite the recent changes, the union's registration practices have come under attack. "Each time we have a hiring program there is a group or groups who don't get hired and who maintain they should have been hired and choose to file a lawsuit challenging our hiring process," Lane said.
Women in Work Force
In 1982, after a discrimination suit was filed against the union, a federal court issued a consent decree mandating that women should make up 20% of the docks' work force within 15 years. At present, at least 5% of longshoremen and 10% of the cargo clerks are women, according to union and Pacific Maritime Assn. officials.
In January, the wives of nine longshoremen filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the union, alleging that a union rule prohibiting hiring the spouses of dockworkers was discriminatory. The rule was passed by the union after part-time longshoremen picketed the union's headquarters, charging favoritism and nepotism in the registration of the 350 new workers.
That suit was settled out of court after the union abolished the rule and registered 32 women and one man who had been affected by the regulation.
The most recent lawsuit names the ILWU, ILWU Locals 13 and 63, and the maritime association as defendants and was filed on behalf of 109 people who have been unsuccessful in obtaining union jobs.
Many of the plaintiffs are part-time longshoremen, or so-called "casuals," who work at Southern California ports. There are 4,000 registered casuals working at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, many of whom have worked on the docks for years.
Family Members in Union
The suit alleges that the union hired a large number of people with little or no experience last winter when thousands flocked to a San Pedro drive-in for job applications. Newport Beach attorney George Shaeffer Jr., who is representing the plaintiffs, estimates that at least 50% of the longshoremen who were eventually hired have family members or friends in the union.
Arian said he did not know what percentage of the newly hired longshoremen have relatives or friends in the union.