Schwab, who describes himself as a workaholic, has few interests outside the union. When he has free time he likes to work in his yard, watch TV and "go to a ballgame now and then." He said he takes his union role seriously, pointing out that one of the major objectives of the Harbor Commission should be to ensure that jobs are kept locally. Last month, Schwab had one of his few formal contacts with the harbor department, when he protested a decision by a port contractor to use a Canadian firm to supply the 827 concrete pilings needed for expansion of a Terminal Island container terminal.
Schwab said the job could have employed about 30 people locally if the contractor had selected a local subcontractor for the work.
"With me sitting on the commission, I'll be able to see who gets what contracts and who are the subcontractors," Schwab said. "I won't be able vote when there is a problem of conflict of interest, but I will be able to see generally that we keep local people employed."
Long Beach Native
Schwab, 40, was born in Long Beach, but as his father puts it, "only because there wasn't a hospital in Wilmington." His parents, Bill and Gertrude Schwab, live in Wilmington and are active members of the Wilmington Home Owners, a group that formed to tackle a growing inventory of community problems.
Bill Schwab worked as a merchant seaman for 43 years and belonged to the Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn. before retiring in 1984. Michael Schwab said his father's union ties helped get him interested in unions, too.
"The whole community is proud to have someone from Wilmington on the commission," Bill Schwab said. "He knows the area and he knows the people."
In 1974, the younger Schwab left Wilmington for Huntington Beach to be near his son, now 18, who has been institutionalized in Costa Mesa for cerebral palsy. Schwab said he regretted leaving Wilmington, but felt compelled to be near his son.
"My boy is handicapped, and I had to do something for him," Schwab said. "I had to do what was best for him, and that meant moving. If it had been my way, I would have stayed here."
Schwab, who is separated from his wife, moved back to Wilmington in January, and now rents a duplex several blocks from the Pile Drivers union hall on north Lagoon Avenue. He said his return to Los Angeles had nothing to do with his appointment to the Harbor Commission, which he said he heard about only last month.
"As an organizer, I was going all over the place so it didn't matter as much," Schwab said. "But as business manager, you need to be closer to the hall."
Even while he lived in Orange County, Schwab said he kept abreast of community issues in Wilmington through work and his parents. He said he considers himself a Wilmingtonian, and said he sees his appointment to the Harbor Commission as a chance to improve relations between the harbor department and local residents.
Schwab's complaints--problems in Wilmington are commonly blamed on the harbor department--are familiar ones that have been voiced by residents for years. At the top of the list is the perceived inequity between the two port communities--Wilmington and San Pedro--and what they derive from the multimillion-dollar harbor.
Since 1953, when the last Wilmington resident was appointed to the Harbor Commission, nine San Pedro residents have been chosen as commissioners. Along with Schwab's appointment this month, Bradley also appointed a 10th San Pedro man to the commission--Robert G. Rados, who replaces Dominick Rubalcava, who resigned in June.
With those appointments has come clout, Wilmington residents say. In San Pedro, the port has paid for $3.2 million in improvements to the Ports o' Call Village restaurant and shopping complex, and it plans a $60-million World Cruise Center and a $100-million West Channel/Cabrillo Beach recreational complex.
State law requires that harbor income be used only for improvements to the port itself, but the improvements may include recreational and commercial developments like those in San Pedro. Schwab said Wilmington should be able to get some of that development, too.
"Wilmington has been used for container yards and storage," Schwab said. "It has been more of an industrial park complex than a community. There has been no conception of community planning. There are containers stacked up next to some people's back yards."
Schwab also blames the port for truck traffic and overnight truck parking on residential and commercial streets. One of his top priorities as a commissioner, he said, will be to determine what authority the harbor department has to regulate trucks that use the port.
"I want to see how much the harbor department can do to solve some of these problems," Schwab said. "The condition of this town didn't happen over night, so I know it is going to take time. I know Mr. Burts wants to get involved in community issues. I am ready to get my feet wet."