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Strikers Picket Port of Hueneme, Stranding Cargo Ships for Hours

Labor: Dockworkers honor Ventura County employees' line until a longshoremen's union official intervenes.

July 25, 2001|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County strikers idled the Port of Hueneme for several hours Tuesday, stranding four cargo-laden ships at the docks until a longshoremen's union official arrived and halted the action.

About 30 Service Employee International Union picketers marched outside the port until midmorning as members of the Teamsters and longshoremen's unions waited alongside, unwilling to cross the picket line.

About 10 a.m., after a longshoremen's union arbitrator told his members to cross the line, union leaders called off the march.

Managers of the port, which is operated by the Oxnard Harbor District, said they didn't understand why strikers targeted their facility.

"We were trying to determine what the Oxnard Harbor District had to do with the county of Ventura," said Will Berg, the port's marketing manager. "There's no connection."

But union members defended the action.

"I think this has been worthwhile," said Eddie Alamillo, a senior biologist who was in charge of the local's action at the port. "I think we've gotten enough attention to make our point to the Board of Supervisors."

Berg said the picketing was no more than an inconvenience to the port, but could have been more serious. Some of the waiting ships carried bananas, which could have spoiled in three days.

Earlier in the morning, striking county workers said they would be willing to picket the harbor district through the end of the week, but top union officials weren't ready to risk it.

"It's a financial liability," said local union chief Barry Hammitt. "Del Monte could ruin me" if the union had to pay for a boatload of bananas, he added.

Shouting slogans, the strikers said they picketed the port because they sometimes inspect produce there.

"It's a shame it has to come to this, but we've been ignored and underpaid," said David Van Epp, a supervisor in the Camarillo district office.

During the wait early Tuesday, members of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union said they were forgoing their hourly pay to support the strikers. About 280 of them sat outside the port's gates, waiting for word from their arbitrator.

"I'm a union man from way back," said longshoreman Randy Shorts. "We don't get paid for it, but it's part of the job."

Times staff writer Margaret Talev contributed to this story.

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