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Alaska stevedores falling jobless through the cracks, says entrepreneur

Carey Restino | Bristol Bay Times

Mark Horne is a man on a mission. Or two. He wants to eliminate the use of foreign crewmembers loading and unloading material from vessels in Alaska -- work that is guaranteed to American workers by the federal government. And he wants to see longshoremen get more work. If his new company, Sundance Stevedoring LLC succeeds, that's a bonus, Horne said.

Sundance Stevedoring LLC's main goal, Horne said, is to end the practice of stevedore companies turning down work -- work longshoremen would gladly take but companies turn down because they don't make enough profit from them.

The work has to be offered to all contracting stevedoring companies, labor organizations recognized as exclusive bargaining representatives of U.S. longshore workers, as well as private dock operators. If they all decline it, a foreign ship's crew can legally do the work after filing an attestation form.

But according to Horne, what is happening is that the stevedore companies have agreements with the larger foreign shipping companies to load at a certain rate per ton. So smaller jobs, or portions of the load that are more difficult to load, are often passed over by the companies, he said. Meanwhile, longshoremen are sitting idle wanting work, Horne said.

And that's where Horne hopes Sundance Stevedoring will come in. The longtime Alaskan once worked in the stevedoring world of Unalaska and has been involved in several other entrepreneurial efforts, including Alaska Wireless Communications LLC, a cellular service that served Dutch Harbor. Horne has a contract with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Unalaska, for example, two stevedoring companies exist, Horne said -- North Star Terminal and Stevedore Co., and Pacific Stevedoring. Horne said both companies regularly turn down portions of the loading jobs that are more labor-intensive, and thus less lucrative, jobs that longshoremen in Unalaska need.

"We're going to fight to make sure that those jobs get offered to them," Horne said.

Horne said he fully expects a fight -- and probably a legal battle -- over the right to be offered work since technically he is using the same labor pool as North Star and some interpret the law to read that once a company offers work to North Star, they have offered it to those workers. The bottom line, said Horne, is that the workers want to work and they should get that work, not foreign workers.

Horne said he gave the required 60-day notice to the companies coming into Alaska that he would be operating a stevedore company. That 60-day notice is up on the 21st of June. Then it's a waiting game.

Randy Baker, vice president with the ILWU, said this isn't the first time he's fought the battle for more work for longshoremen, but he's hoping this time to win.

"The biggest thing is these are American waters and American fish and it's an American resource," Baker said. "All of the communities throughout Alaska have been robbed of possible jobs while out-of-state people have become multimillionaires if not billionaires without sharing it with the people who live in these communities."

Baker said the relationship with Northstar is strained because of the union's position on allowing Sundance Stevedoring to represent them simultaneously. He says industry may argue that they can't afford to pay the rates longshoremen charge. But he said it isn't right that work is out there that should be offered to longshoremen throughout the state, many in areas where the work could make a real difference.

Horne estimates in Unalaska some 200,000 manhours of missed work opportunities are being passed up by the local stevedoring companies. But it's not just there. In Togiak, for example, during the early fishing season, no longshoremen are used. Bristol Bay is the same situation, probably totaling 10,000 manhours of missed opportunity for American workers. And that's just the fishing industry. Horne said he plans to look at the mineral carriers as well, where he said vessels don't even file the paperwork necessary to use crew.

"Nobody has ever gone after this work before," he said.

Baker said he hopes this time industry is forced to change the way it does business.

"We're excited about this because it means that the intent of the law will be followed," Baker said. "Hopefully we can finally turn the boat around."

North Star Terminal and Stevedore Co. was contacted for comment but did not return phone calls by press time.

The preceding report first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished with permission. Carey Restino can be reached at crestino(at)reportalaska.com.