Labor dispute halts Bay Bridge work

OAKLAND, CA Work on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge has come to a stop because of a labor dispute at the Port of Oakland.

The problem is that two unions are fighting over one job. And, in this tough recession union workers say they are not about to back down.

"I-L-W-U! I-L-W-U!" demonstrators shouted Saturday at the Port of Oakland.

For a second-straight day longshoremen remained in a bitter fight, a union turf war over a job they say was taken away.

"It means lost work and lost wages," said Trent Willis of ILWU Local 10.

The issue is determining which union crew will unload a ship currently docked at the Port of Oakland. The ship is holding vital materials Caltrans urgently needs for work on the Bay Bridge.

"What's on the ship first of all, is structural steel we're using for the temporary supports that we have to put in place to build the world's largest self-anchored suspension bridge," said Caltrans spokesperson Bart Nay.

It is tons of steel, so much it will take three days to unload. It is work the longshoremen need.

"Especially in these hard economic times, where our members are starving for jobs now, we can't afford to lose any jurisdiction in any of our work," said Willis.

But, a resolution may not come easy.

Pier 7 where the ship is docked shut down seven years ago. Caltrans took over and says now it is a construction site. Caltrans then contracted American Bridge Fluor Enterprises to bring in its own union crew to work and unload shipments.

But, nothing of this magnitude has arrived until this week.

"Whether it's the contractor or Caltrans, the ILWU loads and unloads vessels on the West Coast," said Willis.

Caltrans says which union crew will ultimately get the job is not up to them.

"We do not make that decision for them. It is their responsibility to put a crew out there and get the job done," said Nay.

Longshoremen say they will not budge. In this type of economy they need this job. And, until there is a resolution the ship will likely stay at Pier 7, fully loaded.

"It's going to get solved eventually. It will get solved. And, it would have been better in my opinion to try to do it ahead of time as opposed to doing it now, in this fashion" said Richard Cavalli of ILWU Local 34.

Until there is some sort of resolution or compromise, Oakland Police have blocked off Burma Road and are not letting anyone go up to Pier 7.

Talks between the two unions and contractors are set to resume Sunday.

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