Veteran shipyard employees recall past organizing struggle
JOE JOHNSON, A Local 1814 (Bridge City, La.) consultant, met with the staff of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu this past summer to push for the Employee Free Choice Act. The act would make it easier for workers to organize and would provide stiffer penalties for employers that break labor laws. Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, has been reluctant to commit herself in support of the bill.
“We brought a petition with 120 signatures of area ministers supporting Free Choice,” said Johnson, who, along with two other retired Avondale Shipyard workers — Rev. Gilbert Barnes, Operating Engineers Local 406 and Leotha Terrell, Machinists Local 37 — requested the meeting. Also attending was Terese Bouey, assistant director of the AFL-CIO Organizing Department.
The three men from Avondale (who together have more than 100 years of service at the shipyard) spoke about the lengthy struggle of workers to win a union in the face of a fiercely antiunion owner, Avondale Industries. Although the workers voted for union representation in 1993, the company refused to recognize it and resorted to firings, intimidation, and legal maneuvering to keep the union out. Finally, in 1999, the shipyard was sold to Litton Industries, and the workers ratified their first agreement (negotiated by the New Orleans Metal Trades Council). Today the Avondale Shipyard is owned by Northrup Grumman.
“I requested that Joe Johnson be assigned to this effort,” said Bouey, who has been active in building community awareness and support for Free Choice in Louisiana. “The connections Joe has made over the years in the religious community have been invaluable in moving area clergy to support labor issues.”