Port employees want union recognized

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 17, 1998

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / August 17, 1998

LAPLACE – Every Harbor Services employee of the Port of South Louisiana has signed up with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the group approached the South Louisiana Port Commission Wednesday for union recognition.

Several of those employees attended the Port Commission meeting, along with Louisiana union president Garland Webb, to pitch their case. The portcommission, in a 5-2 vote, tabled the matter until its September meeting.

The union, associated with the AFL-CIO, has its Louisiana office in Baton Rouge. At the port meeting, Commissioner E.J. Martin quickly rose tochampion their cause.

“They’ve always been a stepchild to the port,” Martin commented later.

“With the paychecks I’ve seen, I don’t know how they’re living.”Harbor Services personnel operate the port’s two fireboats in the stretch of the Mississippi River which includes St. James, St. John the Baptist andSt. Charles parishes, working search and rescue operations, oil spills,chemical spills and fires of barges, tugboats and other river traffic.

The union asked the Port Commission for recognition and permission for collective bargaining on behalf of the employees.

But Commission Treasurer Gregory Lier observed, “I don’t know enough about this to cast a vote.” He moved to table the matter until the nextmeeting, scheduled Sept. 16.Port Executive Director Gary LaGrange commented later, “We’re a right- to-work state. In Louisiana, nobody can be denied the right to join or notjoin a union.”In other activity at Wednesday’s South Louisiana Port Commission meeting, David Cruz of TranSystems Corp. made a brief presentation onprogress in development of the port’s master plan for development of Globalplex.

“It’s a dynamic tool which allows the flexibility to change,” Cruz commented during the slide presentation.

Interviewers have spoken with area industrial port clients, including Marathon, Kaiser Aluminum and Cargill, with more talks planned with the local railroads and trucking industry.

The master plan will also target potential opportunities for businesses to make use of the port’s dock facilities at Globalplex, such as sugar import/export, containerized business, new bulk loading capabilities and expansion of storage facilities.

In addition, Globalplex is looking at improvement of the nearby St. JohnAirport for corporate air traffic and cargo, additional fireboat services and coordination of dredging activities.

Also at the Port Commission meeting, the board approved a new lease agreement with CGB Marine, located at the Welton Plantation site in St.

James Parish.

The port was not aware of CGB’s activity at the site since 1996, and the company has agreed to pay $24,504 in back rent and to pay $29.50 perlinear foot of river frontage per month in a 5-year lease.

Also, the Port Commission approved a new legal services contract with attorneys to handle the Bay Star Enterprises audit.

Recently, a contract arrived at the port office from Kean-Miller law firm for a maximum $150,000. The port had budgeted $50,000 and planned tocontract with Baton Rouge attorney Stephen M. Irving instead. Irving, inturn may work with Kean-Miller on the audit.

“I still have reservations about this,” Commissioner Louis Joseph commented. He insisted he wanted LaGrange’s direct supervision of thecontract, instead of just that of Commission President Brandt Dufrene and Lier.

Martin, also mentioned in a draft report from state Inspector General Bill Lynch in the Bay Star investigation, demanded to know what money or assets are allegedly missing because of Bay Star.

He later commented the port has already spent $25,000 to Baton Rouge accounting firm Apple-Ellis Inc., which was unable to complete the work,claiming necessary documents from Bay Star president Marvin Harvey were not made available.

Meanwhile, that draft report is still in the hands of Gov. Foster, a 15-yearfriend of Martin, awaiting possible action.

“The governor is pretty much upset,” Martin observed Thursday. “I wasfishing with him just this past weekend.”

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