Longshoremen Bosses’ Pay Sky-High; Assets, Membership Down

“Pay for performance” is an idea that has gained currency in many organizations in this country. The International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents dockworkers and auxiliary employees along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and the Great Lakes, appears not to be one of them. According to the union’s recent “LM-2” financial reporting form submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor, the ILA pays its top people way up in the six figures. President John Bowers made $587,078 in 2006 in international and district salary and expenses. Bowers’ son, John Jr., a union vice president, received $292,440. Already among the highest levels of compensation in organized labor, such money is especially significant in the context of the Justice Department’s civil racketeering suit against Longshoremen leadership filed in July 2005. The suit, which has yet to go to trial, seeks the removal of Bowers and several other union officials, and their replacement with a court-appointed trustee. 


What is ironic is that the union’s fortunes are headed downward. The LM-2 report indicated that union assets in 2006 stood at $33.8 million, down by roughly a third from $51.1 million in 2004. Moreover, membership had dropped to 43,500 in 2006 from 59,000 just two years earlier.  These figures have union dissenters alarmed. “The union is in crisis,” said Tony Perlstein, secretary-treasurer-elect of ILA Local 1588 in Bayonne, N.J., which until several years ago had been one of the most mob-ridden unions in the country. “More and more work is going nonunion; the contract has been gutted; and the leaders continue to line their pockets. It’s a waste of union resources.”   


Union spokesman James McNamara counters that such compensation is far from excessive. Bowers’ salary, he notes, has to be considered in light of the fact that he’s headed the union for 20 years, and that his and other leaders’ salaries had been approved by ILA delegates. As for declining assets, some of that is the result of the union donating $1 million to Longshoremen living in the Hurricane Katrina-devastated Gulf Coast. Even more telling are the legal bills incurred in the union’s challenge to the RICO suit. Combined lawyers’ fees paid by the international union and the Atlantic Coast District were $3.6 million. It’s worth noting, however, that $2.5 million of that sum went to the law firm of Thomas W. Gleason, son of former ILA President Thomas Gleason, who headed the union during 1963-87. Additionally, the younger Gleason’s brother, Robert, secretary-treasurer of the union, collected a cool $413,580 last year.          


Such incomes become even less justifiable when compared to those of top officials in other unions, particularly the ILA’s West Coast rival, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. In 2005, the 42,000-member ILWU paid its president, James Spinosa, $150,183 in base salary and expenses. The far larger Service Employees International Union, which has 1.8 million members, paid its president, Andrew Stern, $258,731 in 2006, including allowances and reimbursements. And the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which claims 1.4 million members, provided President James P. Hoffa with $335,657 last year.

ILA’s Perlstein sees his union’s sky-high compensation for top brass as emblematic of a deeper problem:  an inability to defend the interests of its members. The union has negotiated substandard wages for new hires, which in turn has depressed dues collections and assets. Bowers and other Longshoremen leaders, argues Perlstein, seem excessively concerned with padding their lifestyles. Leonard Riley, like Perlstein, a co-chairman of the Longshore Workers Coalition, also takes this view. “If the union’s rank and file were truly empowered and were able to put a value on the job that our leaders are doing, they wouldn’t pay them nearly as much.” Milton Mollen, a former New York State judge who is serving as the ILA’s ethics officer, plans to introduce a proposal barring executive officers from receiving salaries from union locals. (New York Times, 4/7/07).