SAN FRANCISCO — Morris Weisberger, leader of the Sailors' Union of the Pacific for 21 years, has died after a long illness, the union reported over the weekend. He was 80.
The Cleveland-born Weisberger grew up in an orphanage after his parents died when he was 7. At the age of 17 he went to sea as an seaman apprentice.
He survived a fire aboard the steamer Morro Castle when it burned in 1934 off Asbury Park, N.J. The tragedy claimed the lives of 125 people and is listed as one of the worst accidents in U.S. maritime history.
He began working for the Sailors' Union of the Pacific in 1936 and three years later was elected port agent in New York City, remaining until his election in 1956 as secretary-treasurer.
That post evolved into the president's position.
In 1962 Weisberger's union was one of three that closed West Coast ports in a 26-day strike over working conditions until President John F. Kennedy invoked the Taft-Hartley Act and reopened shipping.
John F. Henning, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, called Weisberger "a creative part of the great tradition" of the Sailors' Union.
"I admired him for his accomplishments, his great show of strength when things got tough and for his open-door policy to rank-and-file union members," said Paul Dempster, the current union president. Weisberger worked tirelessly to improve health and welfare benefits for seamen and their families, he said.