By VIVIAN J. MALAUULU
(Jan. 27, 2015) — This is MY reply to Dori Monson, host of his self-titled talk show on Seattle’s KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, who referred to longshore workers as “thieves” and “criminals” on a segment which aired Tuesday, Jan. 20.
Dear Mr. Monson:
My name is Vivian and my husband, George, and I have been married for almost 17 years. We have four children ages 6, 9, 12, and 14. Our family lives in Long Beach, Calif., and we do just about everything within a 10-mile radius of our home; we shop at local stores and frequent nearby restaurants, our kids attend area schools, we worship and serve the children’s ministry of our church, we support our local parks and recreation by allowing our children to play sports and by coaching their teams, and we participate in a wide range of community activities. Every single year for the past 15 years my family has faithfully volunteered to feed thousands with Thanksgiving baskets our jobs provide, and for the past 10 years my children have volunteered to serve underprivileged kids during a Christmas charity event also funded by where we work. We pay our taxes dutifully, vote in every election, help our family, friends, and neighbors when we can, and contribute meaningfully to society.
Yet, today, I heard a radio broadcast in which you referred to us as thieves. THIEVES! You also called us criminals even though neither one of us has any criminal history. All because we are longshore workers.
I, sir, am no thief. My husband is not a thief, either. Neither one of us is a criminal. We have the great fortune of belonging to one of the most honorable labor unions IN THE WORLD.
When my husband comes home at 5 a.m. after 10 hours of lashing dozens of containers to bug-and-germ-infested vessels with bruises all over his body and an occasional broken finger, all so consumerism the world over will continue through one more “peak season,” the last thing I would call him is a thief. His modest wages do not compare to the ridiculous profits enjoyed by the steamship owners — who barely pay the shipmates, working those vessels for six months straight without leave, enough for a weekly bag of rice in their native countries.
When he came home with blood crusted around a two-inch gash on his scalp from hitting a low-lying bar while crawling on his hands and knees untying cars for eight hours in the hold of a six-story auto carrier, or when he had to have metal particles surgically removed from both of his eyes after cleaning up the chutes and tunnels of the largest coal dock on the West Coast, calling my husband a “hard worker” would have been more appropriate than calling him a criminal.
Let me tell you about some of the hardships I have endured while working on the waterfront and then you tell me if you still think I’m a thief or a criminal when I’m done.
For many nights in a row, I often drove a forklift in reverse carrying pallets of fruit through narrow passageways in large, freezing cold, rodent-infested warehouses with chemical preservatives dripping on me from the low-hanging tarps above me and surrounded by unstable boxed piles I couldn’t even see over. What about the nights I moved humongous unsteady cargo like coils, pipes, plates, and tires across uneven terrain and stacked them perfectly in the dark with nothing but the dim light of my heavy lift to guide me? Was I a thief then, sometimes moving 500 pieces of steel that would only take ONE small piece to maim or kill someone if it slid off my lift and landed on a dockman working nearby?
In your radio rant, you mentioned that we are paid for eight hours even though we only work four. That is true sometimes, for some jobs, on some occasions. But that is not the case the majority of the time. We rejoice in the reward of getting off early after completing our job just like some teachers enjoy short days each quarter. Some secretaries have short weeks on occasion, some nurses have short shifts every blue moon, and some bus drivers have short routes every now and then. Those are refreshing perks enjoyed in any job. Are you implying that teachers, secretaries, nurses, and bus drivers are criminals because they get off early from time to time?
You talk about our wages being higher than other workers. Indeed they might be higher than some other workers in some other industries. All of that is relative to the nature of the work itself. Carpenters, journeymen, plumbers, and other trade workers earn similar wages for the specialty work that they do.
Our wages are comparable to the sacrifices we make with our bodies and our health, which is why our benefits are compensatory to those sacrifices. We work in an environment that is uber dangerous to the Nth degree. Injuries on our jobs are not paper cuts and stress headaches. We lose limbs, and we lose lives.
We suffer from chronic pain due to repetitive motion. Our bodies show evidence of years on the job in our posture, our gait, and our immune systems. Most of our retirees leave the industry with partial, if not total, hearing loss and many of our colleagues injured on the job are often permanently disabled. We work around equipment with large moving parts, around the clock (24 hours a day, for 361 days of the year) in every possible type of inclement weather you can imagine. We inhale cancer-causing toxins from vessels, trains, big rig trucks, cranes, and highways every second that we are at work. Our crane operators have to “hold it” until their shift ends because the closest bathroom is 90 feet beneath them.
If you want my honest opinion, all things considered, we should be compensated more for the hazards we endure when compared to the profits we make for the executives who operate the terminals.
You briefly touched upon the terminal operators in your rant, referring to them as thieves, too. While I am offended that you would call me a thief, I am MORE offended that you would call me anything EQUAL to them.
The average $75,000 our workers earned last year working our butts off 5-6 days per week, 8-10 hours per day, climbing slippery gangways, hoisting greasy lashing bars that weigh more than 50 pounds each above our heads until they lock into tiny holes on containers, and being tethered to a cage 100 feet above sea-level while lying flat on our stomachs on top of a seven-high container ship looking down into the dark waters of the Pacific while unhooking safety lashing pins with our bare hands is nothing, NOTHING compared to the $900,000 the president of the Pacific Maritime Association earned last year sitting behind a mahogany desk trying to figure out how to exploit more foreign workers by cutting more American jobs.
Now THAT, is criminal.
You were very defensive about the plight of truck drivers. You stated that they are being “wiped out of their livelihoods.” I am agreement with you on that point because I too feel for them and their less than favorable working conditions. I work with outside truckers every night and I’ve gotten to know some of them very well. It is shameful that companies pay them no more than $50 per load when they spend hours waiting on terminals for computers to help them, all the while paying the high costs of operating their own rigs, gas, repairs, and taxes out of their own salaries.
The automated systems companies are using to expedite container truck delivery are costly in both time and money. Computers function slowly, provide the wrong information, and frequently crash. Our union has tried to organize truckers to help them alleviate the wrongful working conditions they endure but large companies employ all sorts of tactics to prevent that. Subsequently, many truckers live in poverty because of this flawed system which has nothing to do with the ILWU. Everything about the service provided to truck drivers is regulated by companies who are systematically attempting to replace humans with automated machines and a mockery of robots.
My husband and I struggle like every other decent American couple to provide for our family, to hold on to the first and only home we saved for years to buy, to drive two American-made cars, to educate our children through college, and to put something away for our retirement. We are not thieves and we are not criminals.
The companies that are right now holding dozens of ships hostage at sea and crippling our national economy, when the ILWU has repeatedly stated that we are ready to receive and work those ships, are the real criminals.
It is my opinion that anyone who can sit in a cozy room with a microphone in his face insulting and judging hard-working Americans is a thief robbing of us of the dignity and respect we are due. My union brothers and sisters — many of whom are VETERANS — and our fellow working Americans are neither thieves nor criminals. We are everyday working heroes — HEROES — building on the courage and strength of our forefathers and committed to preserving solid middle-class jobs and values for future generations.
You owe ALL OF US an apology.
Vivian J. Malauulu
Vivian J. Malauulu is a longshore worker and serves on the Executive Board of ILWU Local 13. She is chairperson of Local 13’s publicity/public relations committee and teaches journalism at Long Beach City College.