Dockworkers delay unloading ship over protests

By Andy Owens
Published Dec. 20, 2012

Dockworkers refused to cross a picket line of protesters blocking the unloading of the Maersk Carolina at the Wando Welch Terminal this morning.

The 958-foot vessel carrying garments produced in Bangladesh for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was eventually unloaded after workers for the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 were told by ILA lawyers they were obligated to unload the ship according to their contract, said a union representative.

Leonard Riley, an ILA dockworker who was there this morning, said the protesters, who are affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, took similar action in New Jersey to block unloading the same ship.

The reason the Maersk Carolina was targeted was because it carried goods manufactured at a Bangladesh factory where 112 workers were killed in a fire Nov. 24, Riley said. Workers at the factory were making clothes for several international retailers, including Sears and Wal-Mart.

Riley said that even though the ship was eventually unloaded, the ILA was completely in support of the reason for the protest and wanted to help protect workers’ rights and safety conditions in third-world countries and in the U.S.

“Once we were alerted that pickets were going to be up, we did what you union people do: We stopped at picket signs. That’s just solidarity,” Riley said. “We feel a social responsibility as organized workers to lift up this cause, and we are firmly against the treatment that Wal-Mart has placed against its workers.”

Riley noted that the ILA is having ongoing contract negotiations with the United States Maritime Alliance, and dockworkers in Charleston could themselves be on the picket lines Dec. 30. ILA President Harold Daggett issued a memo Wednesday telling local unions across the U.S. to get ready for a strike after negotiations broke down the day before.

The S.C. State Ports Authority said there was a short delay in getting the Maersk Carolina unloaded, but work proceeded at 8:30 a.m. A message left with Wal-Mart Stores’ corporate office was not returned by deadline today.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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