NORTH BERGEN, NJ – (May 13, 2020) Early in the COVID-19 Pandemic, as the general public’s concern over the spread of the Coronavirus was rising while availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was dwindling, local presidents in the Port of New York and New Jersey assessed the situation and determined they needed to take immediate action.
ILA members at port areas up and down the coast were working in close proximity to each other; were interacting with foreign container ship crews and outside truckers; and handling shared equipment – all potential hazards in the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. ILA members’ safety gear needs quickly expanded from just wearing hard hats, safety vests and metal tipped shoes. Beginning in late February, N-95 masks; protective gloves and hand sanitizers were highly sought-after items in New York and New Jersey that all workers who were performing critical jobs and services, needed to protect themselves and their co-workers.
Initial appeals by ILA Local Presidents to secure PPE at local, state and federal levels only confirmed a dire situation developing. Government and health agencies were not able to supply enough PPE for doctors and nurses at many hospitals in New York and New Jersey. The ILA’s appeals for PPE supplies to the State Governments in Albany, New York and Trenton, New Jersey were not going to be met on a timely basis if at all. ILA members needed PPE immediately and ILA local presidents took charge.
Brandon Garcia, the president of ILA Local 1235; Buddy Smith the president of ILA Local 1233; David Cicalese, the president of ILA Local 1, all based in Newark, New Jersey; Virgil Maldonado, the president of ILA Local 1588 based in Bayonne, New Jersey and Dennis A. Daggett, the president of ILA Local 1804-1 from North Bergen, New Jersey, recognized immediately that if hospital workers and other first responders such as Emergency Medical Technician Crews; police and firemen were scrambling to find PPE supplies, then it was up to them to find PPE supplies on their own.
On the New York side, ILA Local 920 (Staten Island), Local President Mike Izzo was able to secure 600 face masks early in the Pandemic that he was able to distribute to each of his members, plus ILA Checkers and Maintenance members working in Staten Island. ILA Local 920 President Izzo was able to supply employers with masks and even donated 100 masks to Staten Island South Hospital.
John Cuozzo, President of ILA Local 1478-2; Frank Agosta, President of ILA Local 1814 and Ron Misiti, President of ILA Local 824 joined in efforts to secure masks for their members.
“Dennis Daggett, Dave Cicalese, Buddy Smith and I, along with all ILA Locals in our Port took the initiative,” said ILA Local 1235 leader Brandon Garcia. “We were in daily conversations with each other and understood it was our responsibility to protect our members. We recognized it as our duty to protect our ILA members.”
“Every ILA person working in our industry, whether they are a checker, a longshore worker or maintenance workers are heroes to me, and they deserve to be protected,” said Dave Cicalese, the president of ILA Local 1. “Due to the strong support of our local ILA members for their leadership, we were able to make quick and vital decisions early in this COVID-19 pandemic to seek out private vendors to order protective equipment without going through a lot of red tape.
“We not only supplied ILA members, but our employers as well,” continued Cicalese. “And we’re still doing it and management is now supplementing our PPE supplies with theirs.”
Buddy Smith, the president of Local 1233 credits the strong working relationships all ILA locals in the Port of New York and New Jersey have with each other to responding to the PPE crisis immediately and successfully.
“Jointly we answered the call much sooner and more successfully than if each local attempted to secure supplies on their own,” Smith said. “I let Dennis Daggett know early in the crisis that I had found a vendor that could supply our ILA members with protective masks, and we acted immediately.”
Dennis Daggett, the International’s Executive Vice President in addition to leading ILA Local 1804-1 as its president, said the early actions by his fellow ILA Local leaders in the Port of New York and New Jersey to take charge of securing PPE supplies has allowed ILA members there to be protected; help keep the number of COVID-19 infected members down, and kept the Port open and commerce moving.
“ILA members are America’s heroes, we cannot say that enough,” Local 1804-1 President Daggett said. “Without their support and with solid leadership among the ILA Locals in the Port of New York and New Jersey, it’s possible we could have seen a port shut down. It was natural for our ILA members to be concerned about contracting the Coronavirus at the port and bringing it home to their loved ones.
“By providing them with PPE, they felt secure enough to keep working and keeping our port open,” continued Daggett.
Added Local 1 President Cicalese: “ILA members are doing something above and beyond what the average American is doing.”
ILA members in Bayonne were supplied face masks and hand sanitizer in late March as their Local 1588 President Maldonado secured this PPE for his membership. President Maldonado and his office manager, Brenda Eagle, scoured area stores to buy up as much hand sanitizer as they could find. The local’s Secretary-Treasurer Mark Santoro was able to secure latex gloves, even bagging them in zip lock bags for contactless distribution. All the while ILA Local 1588 was sharing its PPE with other ILA Local members as well.
Lending financial support to help the ILA in New York and New Jersey purchase PPE was the ILA District Council of New York and New Jersey, led by its president, Charles Ward.
PPE supplies continued to be ordered. To date, ILA Locals in the Port of New York and New Jersey have provided its members over 160,000 surgical masks; 50,000 K-95 masks; 30,000 pairs of Nitro gloves; 15,000 face coverings and scores of 50-gallon hand sanitizers.
Information is Power and many of these same ILA leaders who secured PPE supplies early in the Pandemic also help create an informational Facebook Page “ILA Ports of NY & NJ Covid 19 Information” that provided honest, detailed and daily information about the supply of PPE and also what other safety measures were being taken (sanitizing equipment; COVID-19 infections and quarentines, etc.) to protect the ILA workplace. The Facebook information page has proved to be a valuable tool for ILA members.
The PPE supplies secured by ILA locals have been supplemented by donations for NYSA, Metro and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
From the outset, ILA Employers led by John Nardi, President of New York Shipping Association and Joseph Ragusa, President of Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors’ Association, Inc., have joined the ILA in efforts to secure PPE, sharing in the substantial expense.
NYSA President Nardi this week has sent a letter to leadership in New York and New Jersey and the Federal Government seeking help in funding PPE supplies. In his appeal, President Nardi characterized the work of ILA, NYSA and Metro as “extraordinary.”
“I’m reaching out on behalf of my client, the New York Shipping Association (NYSA) to share with you some of the extraordinary work quietly taking place to support front line workers and keep our economy moving, and why they will need your support going forward. The members of the NYSA and our partners in the supply chain, namely the International Longshoremen’s Association, Metropolitan Marine Contractors Association and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are seeking federal and state help to shoulder additional costs tied to constantly cleaning facilities, investing in personal protective equipment (PPE), non-contact temperature checks, as well as weathering the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on cargo volumes,” Nardi wrote.
“NYSA members and its partners in the port, while operating in the most impacted region of the United States in this pandemic, have never faltered to keep the nation’s supply chain moving and bringing in critical supplies including personal protective equipment, testing reagents, food, and other goods to sustain the “essential” economy and those isolating at home. This video created by the ILA highlights what they and their partners have been doing to support each other during this time,” Nardi added, including the link to an ILA produced “Thank You” video.
No one is certain when this COVID-19 Pandemic will end but ILA members in the Port of New York and New Jersey continue the brave task of showing up for work each day, keeping commerce moving across the Greater Metropolitan area and protected with the strong support and admiration of their ILA local leadership.
If other ILA Locals or District Councils would like to share how they have responded to supplying members with PPE, please email Jim McNamara at the ILA [email protected] to share your story.