IBU PRESIDENT’S REPORT
As I wrote in my last report, the IBU will celebrate our 100th year, Nov.18, 1918 was our founding and we have a great history as a dynamic force for workers rights. I am, therefore, noting some of that history in my reports. Today I am honoring one of our great Regional Directors and Union activist, Bob Forrester. Unfortunately, Bob passed away this summer and his voice will be greatly missed at our Centennial Convention in 2018. I am passing on to you his legacy to our Union:
Bob Forrester was born on February 14, 1928 into a family of five children raised in East St. Louis, Illinois, a city with a history of militant labor actions and bitter racial conflict. He joined the Merchant Marine at the young age of 16 and was trained on Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California. By the time he was 19, Forrester was elected by his peers to be a ship delegate for the National Maritime Union, which marked the beginning of his life-long path of union activism.
In 1951 he was drafted to serve in the Korean War and served two-years in the Army. Forrester went back to sea for several years,then settled in the LA Harbor area in 1957 and went to work for United Towing where he was elected to serve a total of 4 years as “Patrolman” for the Inlandboatmen’s Union in their Southern California Region. Forrester was also elected to the IBU’s Regional Executive Board where he served as Chairman from 1975-1981.
In December of 1981, Forrester was elected by his co-workers to serve as Regional Director for IBU members in Southern California, where he continued to be elected until retiring in December of 1993. He supported union political action drives and efforts to hold elected officials accountable by serving as Vice President of the ILWU’s Southern California District Council for three years. He was also among the group of union leaders who helped form the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Labor Coalition, where he served as Secretary-Treasurer from the group’s founding in 1979 until his retirement.
By the time he retired, Forrester had accumulated a long record of organizing and advocating that helped union members win better pay and improve working conditions on bunker barges, tugboats, ferries and water taxis that operated in Southern California.
Forrester took labor law classes at Loyola Marymount University in order to become more knowledgeable and effective union Trustee, responsible for managing and improving pension and medical programs for the membership. Forrester also studied labor history and was eager to share his knowledge.
He believed that helping workers to organize and join the union was an essential task for union leaders, and he was personally involved in countless organizing campaigns around the harbor area for more than three decades.
As our Union moves forward it is up to us to carry on the grit and tenacity of leaders like Bob who truly embodied the spirit of our democratic Union. Below is one battle we are fighting for our members in Valdez Alaska:
The Inlandboatmen’s Union, is blowing the whistle on a dangerous plan to replace experienced union mariners who have successfully protected Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound for almost three decades – with a cut-rate, non-union company that has a poor safety record. The shocking decision was made by oil company executives who own the Alyeska pipeline that carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope oilfield – the size of Indiana – across mountains and tundra to Prince William Sound where it is pumped into tankers that carry the crude south to refineries in the lower 48. Low oil prices and falling production have left the Alyeska pipeline operating at only 25% of capacity, and may have been a factor in the oil companies’ decision to find a low-cost, cut-rate contractor with a dismal safety record.
Instead of learning from that disaster and the importance of maintaining the highest quality emergency response teams, Exxon and other oil companies have decided to roll the dice by hiring a non-union outfit with a history of mistakes and near-disasters in the Arctic. The skilled workers are employed by Crowley Marine Services, which has held part of the contract since the emergency response system was put in place after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989.
Earlier this spring, Crowley announced that the oil companies had eliminated their firm from renewing the contract, immediately raising concern from workers and unions about the future. Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed when the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company confirmed that they had decided to dump Crowley and to do business with a company called Edison Chouest Offshore.
The Louisiana-based outfit is non-union, and they’re expected to bring along many of their own non-union workers from the Gulf of Mexico up to Alaska in order to avoid hiring local residents and longtime union members with good jobs at Crowley Maritime. The IBU and other unions have warned residents about big oil’s plan to hurt local jobs by launching a public education campaign featuring radio advertisements in Anchorage and Juneau.
Saving these jobs is critically important to the families and local communities in Alaska. An Edison Chouest tugboat was involved with a famous fiasco in 2012, when the firm was hired to move Shell’s massive drilling rig, the Kulluk, from frozen artic waters up north to warmer waters further south. A series of bad decisions involving Edison Chouest and others resulted in Edison Chouest allowing Shell’s massive rig to crash into Kodiak Island where it was grounded and required a major Coast Guard rescue effort that endangered the lives of both crewmembers and Coast Guard responders. Crowley crews were instrumental in freeing the Kulluk and bringing it safely back to harbor.
The oil companies are making a terrible decision that’s bad for Alaskan workers and the environment. Picking a cut-rate, non-union outfit to bolster their bottom line is a penny-wise and pound-foolish proposition, the IBU is committed to helping these workers fight for their jobs, and that fight will continue.
The Alaska Marine Highway System is a vital part of our union, but political and fiscal pressures in the legislature are threatening the funding of the iconic ferry system. We have learned that a significant amount of money normally earmarked for ferry operations was not funded in the state’s budget. The union is now working hard to insure that those funds are restored in the supplemental budget. It is a constant battle to convince some legislators that the AMHS is a major source of local family wage jobs, and is a vital economic link to many communities throughout Alaska. They forget that the ferry system is a highway and it needs to be funded and maintained like any other highway in the state. Our lobbyists and regional officers are now working to restore that funding, but they will need the help of our membership to send a strong message to Alaskan politicians that just do not get it. Contact your regional office to see how you can help.
IBU National President