Hundreds of union dockworkers rally at State Pier to protest stalled negotiations
New London ― Hundreds of revved-up union members from across the East Coast gathered near the Gateway Terminal entrance of State Pier on Wednesday morning to protest what they claim is an effort to prevent members from working key offshore wind jobs at the pier here and across the globe.
International Longshoremen’s Association members were joined by dockworkers from several brother organizations ― some who arrived in buses from Boston, Virginia and other locales ― for a “Global Day of Action” rally, one of several similar protests scheduled to occur at ports and waterfront terminals across the world.
ILA officials said they’ve been at loggerheads with Ørsted, the Danish offshore wind company working to create massive wind farms, including the Long Island South Fork Wind project, over who should be operating specialized crane and cargo-transporting equipment used to move massive turbine components along pier staging areas.
Jim Paylor, assistant general organizer and co-chairman of the ILA’s offshore wind committee, said the union’s issues in New London and other sites revolve around the jurisdiction of work.
He said the responsibility of loading and unloading vessels – crane work traditionally under the bailiwick of longshoremen – was instead years ago re-assigned to building trade unions. At State Pier that meant a subcontracted group of operator-engineers represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers.
“The ILA president nearly three years ago sent a letter to the CEO of Ørsted requesting they start training our union workers on that new equipment,” Paylor said. “There’s an easy solution: start training our people properly, because this issue isn’t over after today.”
The international rallies were organized by the International Dockworkers Association and International Workers Federation.
Ørsted officials framed the dispute as one between two unions.
“South Fork Wind is putting more than 50 local union members across seven unions to work at State Pier, and that includes the local International Longshoremen’s Association that has led the offloading and load-out of offshore wind components for months, including the vessel that arrived this week,” said Allison Ziogas, head of U.S. labor relations for the company, in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
Rally attendees at one point on Wednesday formed a human tunnel on a road leading to a pier entrance gate and taunted incoming workers with waving signs and shouted slogans as New London police officers guided vehicles through the crowd.
Police Chief Brian Wright said the officers were present to ensure public safety and “everyone’s rights” were respected.
For most of the morning, rallygoers from Michigan, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania milled around the entrance, some lounging on open truck beds or lining up fish sandwiches and burgers from a food truck operated by the Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock restaurant.
Connecticut Port Authority Interim Executive Director Ulysses Hammond, whose agency owns the pier and is overseeing the $300 million State Pier upgrade project, was also present at the rally. Hammond previously said the work negotiations involve Ørsted, port operator Gateway and Siemens Gamesa.
The current activity at the pier is related to the remaining construction projects needed to complete upgrades to the 40-acre site. Wind turbine components offloaded from barges are set to to become part of Ørsted’s and Eversource’s South Fork Wind, a 12-turbine wind farm off the Rhode Island coast that is the first of three projects expected to be staged in New London.
Peter Olsen, whose ILA Local 1411 branch represents several State Pier longshoremen, said roughly a dozen of his union members are looking to be credentialed to operate self-propelled modular transport vehicles and new high-tech cranes, pieces of equipment designed to ferry wind turbine blades and other unloaded cargo to “places of rest” on the pier.
“But this is a worldwide issue, one that affects thousands of jobs,” he said. “This is about Ørsted and its partners not recognizing the jurisdiction of dock workers.”
Lewis Strother, a crane operator who lives about “10 minutes” from his State Pier workplace, said he began working the dock in 1983.
“I was hired the same day my father retired here,” he said. “He ran winches and worked in hatches before the cranes were here. It’s frustrating that they want to take work away from us. But we’re going to get those jobs; it’s going to happen.”
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