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October 23rd, 2002 | Letters to the Editor
 

letters 10/23/2002

     
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SEDUCED BY LOCAL COLOR
After reading Chris Lydgate's "Cargo Kings" [WW, Oct. 9, 2002], I realize it was a waste of time to have tried in a two-hour interview to communicate the role of technology on the waterfront, which is the crux of the current contract dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Mr. Lydgate was obviously more interested in "longshore local color" than in a serious exploration of both sides of the issues. When he attempts to explain more significant and complicated subjects, such as world cargo-handling efficiencies, "voluminous" safety codes, and contractual offers and disputes, he is a rank amateur, relying on the employer's simple PR version or just plain gossip from anonymous sources. It is indeed laughable when Willamette Week sets itself up as an authority in explaining the longshore contract, safety and OSHA codes.

Even when Mr. Lydgate states the yearly average wage for a longshoreman, he betrays a lack of understanding of the employer's annual report and picks a higher figure that suits the story's slant. To set the record straight, the average income of Portland longshoremen is $70,677, according to page 62 of PMA's annual report. Incidentally, longshore wages and benefits represent only 5 percent of industry costs. But money is not the issue in this contract negotiation; Mr. Lydgate has used it to distract the public from the real issue of jobs for longshoremen in new technology.

Mr. Lydgate's product is one of the imagination, over-reaching in its scope, inaccurate in its factual data and incomplete in fulfilling what it attempts. Willamette Week excels at the smartass quip and the breezy putdown. Don't attempt feature articles that rely on creative writing to disguise your lack of basic research and intelligent understanding. People are only too ready to accept your negative spin. Ask Lars. Better to leave the important news stories to the larger publications with the staff and budget to do a good, in-depth job.

Jerry Cressa
Hillsboro

CHECK YOUR MATH
I am a frequent reader of WW but must say that I was disappointed in the reporting by Mr. Lydgate in regards to the longshoremen's union dispute.

First of all, Mr. Lydgate is inaccurate in reporting that "full-time longshoremen earn an average of $107,000 a year." Later he reports that longshoreman "top out at $51.55 an hour." Why does a top wage of $51.55 at 40 hours per week equal $103,100 per year while the "average" equals $107,000? Did Mr. Lydgate confuse the numbers? WW misled readers about the average income and then went on to compare the numbers of containers per year handled by Hong Kong and Taiwan vs. those handled by Portland dockworkers. I hate to even get into the ratios, since they are so obviously skewed. Is Mr. Lydgate comparing all of Taiwan (which ships to ports all around the globe) to Portland? What about their safety record? Do you know how many dockworkers were killed last year in Taiwan? Do you know the average salary of a dockworker in Taiwan? You actually may, which is why you didn't bring it up. That would deflate your story.

What really disturbs me about the overall sentiment of this dispute is that America watches executive compensation increase eightfold in comparison to average worker pay in the last 10 years (Business Week, September '02) while supposedly "people's news publications" (such as yours) choose to misrepresent the working class (longshoremen and airline mechanics) as greedy, unrelenting holdouts. Sorry, I'm not a trust-funder who lives off corporate money while writing about "unpopular agendas." I will continue to read WW; however, I will view the articles with much more "biased suspicion" than before.

Hey, I have an idea: Let's break the longshoremen's union so the Pacific Maritime Association can hire minimum-wage minorities to unload the ships. WW would still have something to lie...I mean, write about.

Seth Leavens
Southeast Yamhill Street

Chris Lydgate responds: I respect Jerry Cressa as a knowledgeable source on longshore issues; he kindly granted me several informative interviews. As I continued to report the story, however, I became convinced the real issue was not the "technology question," but the question of who runs the waterfront. Instead of focusing on the minutiae of the contract negotiations--something other papers had already covered--I decided to profile the union and illustrate its dominion over the docks.

I reported that the average wage for full-time West Coast longshoremen is $107,000; that figure comes from page 61 of the PMA's 2001 report (see www.pmanet.org). However, Mr. Cressa rightly points out that Portland longshoremen typically earn less--in part because most of them don't work 2,000 hours a year, and in part because the hourly wage here is lower than the West Coast average.

Mr. Leavens draws attention to an apparent inconsistency between hourly wages and annual income. In fact, longshoremen's income does not come just from hours worked: It also comes from vacation pay, paid holidays and the "pay guarantee plan." These other sources of income represent about 10 percent of the average West Coast longshoreman's take-home pay. In addition, many longshoremen, especially in Southern California, work more than 2,000 hours a year, which raises the average annual income.

None of these figures addresses the average pay for longshore clerks ($105,000) and foremen ($129,000), who earn more than regular longshoremen.

TARGETING LUMUMBA
Regarding the cover story of Patrice Lumumba Ford, "The Making of a 'Terrorist'" [WW, Oct. 16, 2002], Lumumba's friends and family just know that he is not another Johnny Walker Lindh.

They claim Lumumba's purchase of a shotgun was for self-protection, his China/Afghanistan trip was not to join the Taliban but rather to join the Red Crescent, and he is being targeted because he is Muslim.

Perhaps, but take a closer look. A scant three weeks after Sept. 11, scared for his personal safety but full of chutzpah, Lumumba ventures off to rural white-bread America for some "target practice" with some turban-clad buddies. Not illegal, but Christ, Lumumba, find a new hobby for a while.

Feeling safer, Lumumba then decided to head off to Afghanistan via China, those purveyors of free open borders, to join the Red Crescent. Ah yes, Lumumba wants to help his fellow man, right after learning to handle a weapon, and after emailing our Jewish mayor some Palestinian fundamentalistic rhetoric.

You know, Teddy Kaczynski (a.k.a. the Unabomber) was a nice, educated guy once, but after he was found sitting in a shack with a typewriter we formed a different opinion of his thought processes.

Lumumba, it's not because you're Muslim, it's because you're you.

Brian Adjani
Southwest 41st Avenue

 
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