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Muscled Out : Women Dockworkers Protest Strength Test

December 18, 1986|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

Although both the union and the employers association acknowledge that the failure rate is higher among women than men, they have declined to release the figures, saying not enough casuals have taken the test to make such numbers meaningful.

But union sources say that during the first two weeks of local testing, 260 casuals signed up to take the test. An estimated 95% of the men passed the exam, but of the 14 women who took it, 12 failed.

Chuck Wallace, assistant vice president for the employers association in San Francisco, said the test was instituted because of concerns by the union and employers that some dockworkers were not able to perform some longshore work.

Additionally, the employers and union officials say the tests are part of a broader program aimed at implementing beefed-up safety guidelines along the waterfront and reducing injuries. Casuals also will soon be required to take physicals and drug and alcohol tests, although registered dockworkers have to take only physicals.

Higher Injuries on Docks

In 1985, there were 13.4 incidents per 100 waterfront workers in Southern California where an injury or illness resulted in a lost workday, according to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration figures.

By comparison, federal statistics show there were 7.6 incidents per 100 workers among the country's general labor force in 1983, the latest year for which statistics are available.

The test was devised by Advanced Research Resources Organization, a Maryland-based firm that has devised employment tests for a variety of private and public groups, including the entrance exam for FBI special agents.

Deborah Gebhardt, a vice president of the firm, said the company spent more than a year developing the dockworker test, visiting 12 West Coast ports to observe work and interview dockworkers.

Gebhardt said men and women were tested for physical abilities and job performance. That information was used to come up with a single test fair to both men and women who perform "entry level" longshore work, she said. (An example of an entry level job would be unloading bananas.)

Test Called Unfair

Gebhardt, who said men will typically score higher than women on the test, said some women casuals would not seek jobs that were considered tough physically. Casuals can turn down a job and wait for another.

Some casuals argue that since they are allowed to pick their jobs and some require a minimum of physical strength or agility, it is not fair to make them take the test. To a dockworker with a physical ailment and thus only able to take jobs that require operating machinery, the test is tantamount to telling him he cannot work on the waterfront any longer, they say.

But the union and employers association counter that all casuals are expected to do every type of longshore work and the test is designed to ensure that each worker meets minimum physical standards.

Since the testing began 2 1/2 weeks ago, the union says the number of casuals who have voluntarily signed up to take the test has dropped dramatically. A system whereby workers probably will be told to sign up and take the test based on their identification number is in the works, they said, and those who do not take the test after a certain amount of time will not be allowed to work the waterfront.

But one casual who says he has no intention of taking the test is Neal Schreiner, who has frequently butted heads with the union and the employers association over a variety of issues. Although Schreiner says he believes he could pass the test, he said he refuses to do so because it is unfair and unrelated to the work he must perform.

"It's sort of like a fireman's test where you have to carry a 300-pound lady out of a burning building," Schreiner said.

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