Longshore workers in San Diego and about two dozen West Coast ports walked off the job Thursday to protest the war in Iraq, union officials said.
About a dozen employees failed to show up at the 24th Street Marine Terminal in National City, causing a lumber barge's cargo to sit idle, said Marguerite Elicone, a spokeswoman for the Port of San Diego.
At the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal five longshore workers took the day off, causing few interruptions, Elicone said.
"Luckily, it was a slow day for us so the strike had a minimal affect," Elicone said. "They were able to get the work done, it just took a little bit longer than normal."
She expects normal operations to resume Friday.
About 25,000 workers represented by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union skipped work today at 29 West Coast ports to protest the war, union officials said.
"Longshore workers are standing-down on the job and standing up for America," said ILWU President Bob McEllrath. "We're supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it's time to end the war in Iraq."
Steve Getzug, spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies, said the operators believe the action, while billed as an antiwar protest, is actually an intimidation tactic to gain leverage in contract negotiations.
He noted the ILWU and PMA are in the middle of negotiations over a new contract -- the current one expires July 1.
"We view this as a strike -- the ILWU action has essentially brought port activities to a standstill," he said. "The union says one thing but is clearly doing another."
He said the union claimed the protest by workers was voluntary, but "there was ample evidence that union leaders were notifying workers to stay away from the docks Thursday -- that doesn't seem to us to be a voluntary protest."
In the past, the union has staged work stoppages and slowdowns while denying that is happening, he said.
"What we're concerned about today is that it appears they are at it again," he said. "What's troubling is that the ILWU committed themselves and told the public they would negotiate in good faith and reach a conclusion without transportation disruption. Today's work action defies that commitment."
While agreeing that many dock workers did not go to work Thursday, Longshore spokesman Craig Merrilees denied the work stoppage had anything to do with contract negotiations.
"Absolutely not," he said, contending the PMA had a "seriously distorted misappraisal of what happened today."
"The bargaining process has been moving in a positive direction precisely because both sides are committed to reaching an agreement by July 1, and that commitment remains," he said.
He said the war in Iraq "is an issue of life and death" and that protesting the war is a First Amendment right.
"People are mad as hell and fed up with this war," he said.
He also asserted that many of the shipping companies "have a stake in the war continuing" because they are "profiteering" off the war effort.
Merrilees noted that in the past, longshore workers have refused to load ships headed to Japan and Germany during World War II, to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and to South Africa while it was under apartheid.
"There is a long and proud history of social action -- it's a fundamental part of the union," he said.
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