The crew of a new cargo ship went on strike Friday at the Port of Los Angeles in an attempt to improve working conditions and monthly wages that, labor officials say, have been far below international standards.
In support of the crew, local longshore workers honored their picket line and for several hours refused to unload the Maruba Trader, a 520-foot freighter that docked at Berth 212 in the YTI terminal early Friday morning.
Rudy Vanderhider, an inspector for the International Transport Workers Federation, said 17 members of the 22-person crew took the job action in order to force the ship's owner into negotiating a labor contract with the federation.
Longshore workers finally began unloading the Maruba Trader about 3:45 p.m., minutes after the crew secured a labor contract with the transport workers federation.
The London-based federation is an alliance of 500 labor unions from around the world. Since 1948, the organization has campaigned against so-called flags of convenience--foreign ship registries that offer generous tax breaks and little regulation for vessel owners.
The Maruba Trader is a year-old container ship registered in Antigua, a small West Indian island that the federation has identified as a nation providing a flag of convenience. The ship's owner is GMBH & Co. of Antigua. Company officials could not be reached for comment.
Vanderhider said the freighter was chartered by Maruba SCA in Buenos Aires but that when Maruba officials learned of the low wages aboard ship, the firm moved to sever its agreement with the ship owner.
Crew members contend that their pay has been far below minimum international standards and that they have been forced to unlash cargo containers at sea--work normally done in port by International Longshore and Warehouse Union members.
Vanderhider said able-bodied seamen aboard the Maruba Trader have been earning monthly wages of $776, about $200 less than the minimum set by the International Labor Organization and about $500 less than the federation's benchmark.
Before the ship entered port Friday, crew members contacted the federation and sought help. Shortly after docking, they set up a picket line on the gangway and refused to assist bunker barges that had come alongside to refuel the vessel.
Mike E. Freese, president of ILWU Local 13, said union officials inspected the picket line and decided to honor it as talks proceeded to resolve the dispute.
"This ship has been a thorn in our side," Freese said. "They have tried repeatedly to avoid our jurisdiction."
The Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping companies and terminal operators on the West Coast, contended Friday that local dockworkers should have unloaded the vessel when their shift started at 8 a.m.
But an arbitrator decided Friday afternoon that the picket line was valid and ordered the ship's operators to pay the wages of longshore workers who refused to cross it.