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Hard-hit longshoremen turn generosity inward

Traffic -- and work -- at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach have dropped dramatically. The union gives holiday handouts to needy locals, but this year it's helping its own members too.

December 25, 2009|By Ronald D. White

Roldan used his own experience to try to reach other dockworkers who are having a hard time coming to grips with lost work. He told them how he had to give up his car, a tricked-out, slate-gray Pontiac Solstice.

"I got behind on the payments because of a lack of work," Roldan said. "I thought, why have that burden hanging over me with so little work available? So I gave it up."

He's been able to find steadier work as an actor, a profession where it's usually much more difficult to succeed.

But as hard as he worked to entice other union members to accept the organization's largesse at Thanksgiving, he couldn't bring himself to follow his own advice.

Pressed to take one of the union's turkey baskets, Roldan did so -- and then gave it to another family.

"Then I went to have Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law's," Roldan said.

Jennifer Enriquez, 33, is a forklift operator who is about as confident in her abilities as they come. Enriquez feels that there isn't a vehicle on Earth that she can't drive better than anyone else, but she and her colleagues have heard all the rumors -- about 2010 being not much better than 2009, about increased competition for cargo from places such as Canada and Mexico.

Enriquez also has a sister who, as a casual, has been unable to find work on the docks.

"We can't really say what's going to happen. We really don't know," Enriquez said. "We're just trying to show them that there's reason to hope, that we're here for them if they need us."

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