Union Sues to Block Criminal Background Checks

From Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel’s Sep. 10 editorial: “Unionized longshoremen are making a serious and disruptive mistake by trying to block criminal background checks at Port Everglades. Local 1526 of [ILWU] had ample time to protest specifics of the security measure before it was agreed on, and evidently said during earlier discussions it wouldn’t oppose the checks. Now, late in the process, the union is filing a federal lawsuit. The unacceptable result could well be to enhance and prolong the flow of illegal drugs through the port and into Florida’s streets.

This issue is about cocaine, heroin and marijuana in large quantities being smuggled through the Broward County port. For years, the port has been a sieve and therefore a favorite destination of drug smugglers who bring narcotics here from Colombia, usually with stops in the Caribbean.

One reason for the easy path through Port Everglades has been the disturbing number of workers there with criminal histories. This unpleasant fact was pointed out forcefully last year by U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, whose staff checked out a random sample of workers at Port Everglades and the Port of Miami. Not long after Shaw’s disclosure, the Port of Miami put criminal background checks into effect, following the example of the Port of New York, which for decades has successfully used that approach. In Broward, though, the County Commission hemmed and hawed for months, then finally reacted to pressure from Shaw and federal anti-drug agencies by passing a series of security measures, including background checks.

These checks are critical to reducing the flow of drugs. In several recent drug busts at the port, many of those arrested were workers who had extensive criminal backgrounds, including narcotics offenses; some were members of Local 1526. Smugglers seek out workers with such backgrounds, knowing they could become confederates and are in an ideal spot to either shepherd drugs through the port or look the other way. Those who work on or near the docks, and in airports as well, are especially vulnerable to smugglers.

The union’s lawyer claims he doesn’t oppose the idea of background checks, but says the new law is too sweeping. It bars from the docks anyone with a felony conviction in the past five years for drug dealing, smuggling, theft and some other offenses. Why did the union wait until now, when the background checks are getting under way, to object? Questions should have been raised much earlier, when there was a chance to compromise without a lawsuit. Perhaps union leaders don’t realize that a lawsuit leaves the public impression their members have something to hide. It’s an unfortunate action, and the union’s best course is to back off from the lawsuit.”