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Port employees may join union

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / February 21, 1998

RESERVE – Employees of the Port of South Louisiana, especially those working on the port’s fireboats, intend to join a union in search of a better wage scheme and better working conditions.

Capt. Kerry Cunningham said one meeting has already been held with anorganizer for AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), affiliated with the AFL/CIO. He added at least half the port’sHarbor Services employees are planning to join.

“It’s not just me, but I made the phone call,” Cunningham said.

“We can’t interfere,” responded Gary LaGrange, executive director for the port, who added, “Nobody approached me with any grievances.”Cunningham explained that, saying employees are not allowed to go outside the chain of command and speak to LaGrange without facing penalties.

Cunningham said employees working on the river want State Supplemental Pay, which is paid to police officers, sheriff’s deputies and paid firefighters, who are all involved in hazardous work. Port Harbor Servicesemployees say they also are required to work hazardous incidences at various times without proper training or equipment The port’s fireboats are active in rescue operations, fighting barge and ship fires and performing other duties, such as providing tour boat services for visiting VIPs.

Another sore spot, according to an employee who wished to remain anonymous, is the overtime scheme. In this, the port does not pay overtimerates to Harbor Services employees until after 106 hours are worked in a two-week period. Office employees collect overtime rates after 84 hoursin two weeks, and captains are ineligible for any overtime pay at all.

Port Operations Director Mitch Smith echoed LaGrange’s comments and said the port is powerless to interfere with labor organizing efforts, as Louisiana is a right-to-work state. His only concern, he added, is labororganizing activities taking place at the job site and interfering with work duties.

*** At its Wednesday meeting, the South Louisiana Port Commission reviewed applicants for a master plan for port development. A decision is expectedat the March meeting.

LaGrange announced final approval of a $5.9 million state grant forexpansion of the Globalplex docks to accommodate a new gantry crane and unloaders originally planned for the KMI site in St. James Parish. The portwill match the grant with $1.2 million in self-generated funds.The project also includes extending the general cargo dock from 410 feet to 590 feet, LaGrange said.

An interim management contract with Curtis Environmental to manage the Globalplex wastewater ponds at $3,750 per month was also approved.

Julia Remondet, president of the Godchaux House Historical Society, thanked the Port Commission for its support of the Society’s preservationist efforts for Godchaux Sugar Refinery artifacts.

She presented Commission President Brandt Dufrene with an original stock certificate for Godchaux Sugar Refinery made out to the port. Thecertificate will be on display at the Port’s Guest House at Globalplex.

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