Local dockworkers formed a picket line Tuesday at the deep water dock on Homer Harbor. At issue is the 22,000 metric tons of sulfur in 10,000 bags sitting on the harbor to be loaded on the Marine Vessel Iberian Bulker.
The sulfur is a byproduct of the refinery process at the Marathon-Kenai oil refinery. According to Casey Sullivan, Government and Public Affairs Officer at the Marathon-Kenai plant, the 10,000 bags of sulfur on the dock represent up to ten years’ worth of byproduct generated by the refinery. The sulfur has been accumulating at the harbor for about three months. It can be used by the pharmaceutical industry. It can also be used to make fertilizer or fireworks.
Local dockworkers lined up at the gate to the Iberian Bulker with signs reading, “Chumley Incorporated Unfair to Homer Dockworkers”. Chumley’s Incorporated is the contractor hired to deliver the bags to Homer and load the bags onto the vessel. Calls and emails requesting comment from the company and from President Wayne Wong have not been returned.
Dennis Young is the President of the Alaska Division of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union. In the past, Young says, that work has gone to Northstar Stevedores, the local dockworkers in Homer. This cargo is being loaded with workers from out of town.
“We strongly believe that his wages and benefits are well below the industry standards of what it takes to across the whole state of Alaska, not just in Homer,” said Young.
Young says he did recognize some locals on the job but no one in the union has been hired. And he said several workers, when asked, identified themselves as being from out of state.
“There are a couple of Homer residents that walked out onto the dock. The large contingent, about 30 people that walked out there were - just because they're wearing company logo shirts and coats and stuff of that nature - were from Kenai. We were even asking them where they were from. There's guys that said they're from Utah,” Young said.
Homer is an open port and harbor users are under no obligation to hire local workers. Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins says it doesn’t happen often but isn’t against any law or regulation.
"You have to fill out a use permit, and in that permit you're going to provide your licenses. You're going to show that you're got your insurances that you need and that you're paying your taxes and things like that, and you're a viable company. You can then compete for business here on the port, “ said Hawkins.
Hawkins says Chumley's meets all the criteria. The city maintains an open port in order to insure fair competition for potential port users, said Hawkins, and the city doesn’t sign exclusive agreements for any work at the port.
"It provides a competitive marketplace in the end, brings more business to town, to the owners, which is you and I and the public. The city has always managed this way and that includes business at the fish dock, at Pioneer Dock and the deep water dock as well," said Hawkins.
According to a statement from the Longshore Union, they estimate the sulfur loading operation will last about five days and require upwards of 50 workers.