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Labor Day, a national holiday celebrated the first Monday in September, means different things to different people – the end of summer, start of the school year, fall football and cooler weather.
For me, it’s an opportunity to recognize everyone who works to keep waterborne commerce moving through the Port of Galveston, especially with the additional challenges of a global pandemic. Throughout the COVID-19 threat, the port has remained open and commerce has continued to thrive thanks to our maritime workforce’s dedication to working safely.
They include the skilled union workers who move enormous wind tower pieces, and ship pilots and line handlers who work around the clock to move ships in and out of Galveston Harbor. I also want to recognize our business partners, including stevedores; shipping companies; our tenants; and, of course, the port staff.
Celebrating all American workers
What began 126 years ago as a national holiday to celebrate creation of the labor movement has, for many Americans, expanded to recognize the social and economic achievements of all workers who help make America the most productive nation in the world.
The port’s history and the legacy of waterfront jobs go back almost 200 years when the Congress of Mexico designated Galveston a provisional port and customs entry in 1825, following Mexico’s successful revolution from Spain. At that time, Galveston’s natural harbor was already a busy commercial hub. For decades, men did the back-breaking work of carrying cargo on and off of ships.
Labor unions vital to port success
Fast-forward to today and you’ll see men and women with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) moving a range of cargoes using cranes, forklifts and other equipment. Breakbulk cargo, like bananas and cotton once carried by hand, is packed onto pallets and into containers.
Workers use cranes to move containers, huge wind turbine pieces and other large cargo off of ships and place them on trucks and rail cars. Workers drive new and used cars and a wide range of heavy equipment off of ships.
During normal times, union workers are also in the people business. Cruise passengers can thank ILA workers for greeting them at the curb and getting their luggage safely on and off the ship. ILA workers also resupply each cruise ship with food, beverages, cleaning supplies and just about everything else a cruise ship needs.
3 Locals, 1 Goal
Work on the waterfront is handled by three ILA groups with different jurisdictions and responsibilities. ILA Local 20 moves cargo on and off the ships. ILA 1504-8, chartered in 1933 by the ILA African American Warehouse Local, moves cargo once it’s off the ships. ILA Local 1665, historically known as the clerks and checkers, coordinates, logs and tracks cargo movements. They also are the timekeepers who accurately log hours worked for the three locals.
All three labor groups closely coordinate to safely and seamlessly move tons of cargo through the Port of Galveston around the clock. They do this in coordination with port staff, stevedores, ship lines, pilots and others.
Their dedication and hard work have helped us build a reputation as a port that takes great care of its customers.
As we celebrate Labor Day on Sept. 7, join me in recognizing the contributions of our port’s union workers – and all of the workers who have built and contribute to our nation’s strength and prosperity.
Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday.