NORTH BERGEN, NJ (March 26, 2020) – The world has changed mightily for Johnny Dixon in six short weeks. Back on Sunday, February 9, 2020, he was installed as President of ILA Local 1526, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where ILA leader from around the country joined him in the celebration at Port Everglades. ILA Executive Vice President Dennis Daggett officiated the installation ceremonies.
At ILA Ports up and down the America’s coasts, Puerto Rico and in Canada, ILA leaders and members are facing a new normal, brought on by the worldwide Coronavirus Pandemic. For Johnnie Dixon, his firsts months as the leader of ILA Local 1526 have been challenging, but he is proud of the way his membership has responded.
Port Everglades and all ILA Ports are open and providing the labor that’s helping the general public get much needed supplies to their grocery stores and medical supplies to their hospitals everywhere.
Port Everglades is a major cruise port and the result from the Coronavirus shutting down cruise industry has been devastating. Dixon has seen work drop at Local 1526 some 60 to 70 percent.
“It’s been challenging,” Dixon said by telephone. “I try to keep members calm and let them know we will all get through this.”
Local 1526 has suspended members working round the clock to split available work to more ILA members. The local has also released money from its Strike Fund to help members financially get through the next few weeks. Normally, annual payments from the Strike Fund are made in June.
Like many ILA locals, the Fort Lauderdale local has employed outside medical staff to check members’ temperatures as they come to the hiring hall.
“The members feel protected,” said Local 1526 President Dixon.
At the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, ILA Local 1422 President Kenneth Riley instituted new safety rules for his hiring hall, closing all break rooms at the hall and on the docks.
“Our members go out to their cars on their breaks,” Riley said.
The Local 1422 leader said members must assemble at the hiring hall but, like Fort Lauderdale, ILA members have their temperatures checked before entering and hand sanitizer is available.
Riley said the Port of Charleston is extremely busy handling “wall to wall” cargo.
“We had to pull workers from everywhere,” said Riley. “ILA members always answer the call when challenged.”
Alan Robb, President of the ILA’s South Atlantic and Gulf Coast District has scheduled weekly Zoom conferences with his District Vice Presidents each Monday for updates on how each port areas are facing the challenges brought on by Coronavirus Pandemic.
At the Port of Houston, where the waterfront extends some 25 miles, screening workers and disinfecting equipment presents a logistical problem, but all port stakeholders are doing their part to keep the waterfront safe. Local 24 is using an outside medical source to prescreen all their members before entering the hiring hall to seek employment.
ILA members are sent home if they register a temperature above 100.4 degrees.
The Port of Houston is cleaning public areas often and providing had wipes and hand sanitizer to ILA members. Everyone is practicing social distancing and Locals are taking their hiring outdoors when weather permits.
Eloy Cortez, ILA District Representative has been working actively with Houston’s East End Chamber of Commerce where he is currently the Board Chairman. He was able to secure supplies of 32 oz bottles of sanitizer from Gulf Coast Distillers for use by Houston’s ILA Locals.
International Vice President Vincent Cameron from the Port of Jacksonville, Florida has been closely monitoring the threat of Coronavirus since January and warned ILA members of its threat to the Port of Jacksonville.
“Initially, we were concerned about the ship’s crews coming from foreign countries and carrying the Coronavirus to our Port,” said Cameron. “And I understood that coupled with the Chinese New Year, the Coronavirus would impact the amount of cargo coming from Asia.”
Cameron reports that the Port of Jacksonville is taking all necessary precautions to protects against the spread of COVID-19.
“Jacksonville, along with ports in Brunswick, Georgia and Tampa, Florida are not allowing ILA members to congregate at hiring halls beyond acquiring jobs,” said Cameron. “Once hiring is completed, the halls are emptied and cleaned.”
Cameron said he wants all ILA members to respect the seriousness of the Coronavirus.
“I’ve been posting the safety guidelines provided by the ILA-USMX Joint Safety Committee,” said Cameron.
Willie J. Seymore reports that the Port of Savannah is keeping cargo moving while taking all the necessary safety precautions to keep the ILA member’s work area safe. The long-time ILA leader expressed concerns about the Coronavirus messaging coming out of Washington and President Donald Trump.
“He doesn’t seem to have the best interest of America’s safety first,” said Seymore. “He seems more interested in protecting his personal wealth and big business than human lives.”
Willie Seymore called ILA members “brave and true Americans.”
Up in the Port of Boston, International Vice President Bernie O’Donnell said that port operations are continuing with hiring halls also moving their activity outdoors to prevent large clusters of ILA members gathering.
“We are fortunate in Boston that Massport runs both the airport and waterfront facilities,” said O’Donnell. “Massport has brought over fogging machines they use to disinfect airplanes and terminals to the ILA docks to disinfect all areas.”
Boston has instituted a number of safety precautions, working with the ILA-USMX Joint Safety Committee. An example is ILA drivers at Conley Terminal will keep the same trucks for the duration of the vessel handling. Trucks are wiped clean and disinfected prior to the start of each vessel; masks are backordered, and gloves are provided.
Further north in Canada at the Port of Halifax, ILA International Vice President Patrick Murphy reported that the ILA and employers are cooperating and working tirelessly to keep the Port of Halifax open and safe.
Murphy has requested companies provide large tents outside the port areas as break rooms at the terminals are small and usually overcrowded.
“We’re practicing proper social distancing where we can and the public seems to be adhering to Government’s guidelines to stay at home,” said Murphy. “Things are happening on a daily basis and we have to be ready.”
Early Friday evening, it was reported that a longshoreman at the Port of Montreal, Canada had tested positively for Coronavirus and the Port was shutting down for 16 hours.
ILA General Organizer John D. Baker is working out of his Cleveland office and reports that the Great Lakes shipping season has started with ILA members handling some cargo left over from last year and are expecting grain and iron ore barges to be calling at Great Lakes Ports this week.
“We’re not allowing ship’s crews to come out of their offices,” Baker said. “We are doing all signage electronically.”
No area has faced more life-changing challenges in recent times for ILA members than from Puerto Rico. International Vice President Carolos Sanchez Ortiz from the Port of San Juan said his ILA members are taking on this Coronavirus Pandemic the same grit and determination they used to rebuild the Island after devastating hurricanes.
“Our members are working,” said Ortiz. “Our county survives on imports, so we have to keep the docks open.”
Ortiz said he and other ILA locals are pressing companies to supply members PPE equipment.
“Some companies are supplying protective equipment,” Ortiz said. “For the companies that don’t, the ILA local is providing safety gear for members.”
In the Port of New York and New Jersey, the ILA locals looked to streamline information about the port facilities and the Coronavirus Pandemic. The ILA’s Manny Oliveira, teamed with ILA Local leaders Brandon Garcia, President of ILA Local 1235; Dennis Daggett, President of Local 1804-1 and Buddy Smith, President of ILA Local 1233 and others to create a “NY & NJ COVID -19 Information Page” on Facebook. Members receive multiple updates throughout each day on all issues related to COVID-19 and the protection of ILA workers in the Port of New York and New Jersey. In a few weeks, this popular Facebook page continues to honestly educate and inform.
Dennis Daggett and David Cicalese, President ILA Local 1, and an ACD Vice President, have been leading the ILA charge fighting to get all New York and New Jersey longshore workers equipped with proper PPE items. This has been particularly challenging since hospitals in the Greater Metropolitan area are also scrambling to secure protecting equipment such as masks and gloves.
ILA President Harold J. Daggett continues to praise his remarkable membership and their dedication to keep cargo moving despite the threat of COVID-19 virus.
“I know the American and Canadian public feel a deep sense of gratitude for all first responders who are answering the call during this horrible Coronavirus Pandemic,” President Daggett said. “ILA members are first responders, keeping our commerce moving and are a shining example of heroism and dedication.”