Honduras: solidarity action hits US port

Dockworkers at the Port of Portland in Oregon walked off their jobs at the container yard on March 4 to honor a picket line set up by a small group of Honduran dockworkers protesting what they said were labor abuses at the Puerto Cortés port in northern Honduras. The picketers were members of the Dockworkers Labor Union (SGTM), which has been in a dispute since last year with Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana (OPC), the Honduran subsidiary of the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI). A US subsidiary of ICTSI operates Terminal 6 in the Oregon port, and the dockworkers there, who are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), have had their own disputes with the company.

The job action in Portland only lasted from the morning to the evening of March 4. A labor arbitrator ordered the ILWU members back to work, ruling that while the walkout was not illegal, it was unjustified because the Honduran workers weren't employees of the US subsidiary. The ILWU workers returned to the job in the evening, but about 100 ILWU members and supporters protested at the Honduran consulate in San Francisco on March 7, charging that the company had identified two Honduran workers who were part of the picket line, Carlos Alvarado and Glen Galdames, to the Honduran government. As a result the police had sought the two men after their return to Honduras on March 6, the ILWU said. The Solidarity Center—the foreign policy arm of the US AFL-CIO labor federation, which the ILWU recently left–wrote to US ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske on March 6 urging her to demand that the Honduran government stop trying to arrest Alvarado and Galdames. ICTSI Oregon chief executive Elvis Ganda responded that the unions were "making baseless allegations about events in Honduras." (Associated Press, March 4, via SFGate; ILWU press release, March 4, via Longshore & Shipping News; The Oregonian, March 4, March 7)

OPC won a 29-year concession in February 2013 to operate and modernize the Puerto Cortés seaport. According to the SGTM, the company signed a labor agreement with the government without consulting the workers. The union's general secretary, Víctor Crespo, began receiving death threats, and on Sept. 14 armed men tried to break down the door at his home; they fled after Crespo's neighbors woke up and became potential witnesses. Crespo relocated to an undisclosed country, but his father, Víctor Manuel Crespo Puerto, died on Jan. 28 of injuries he received when he and other family members were run down by an armed man in a stolen car.

In December OPC began laying off a large number of unionized workers. A protest by the dockworkers broke out at the port on Feb. 26, and it was joined by truckers angry at poor service at the terminal and OPC's decision to increase the fees. "The Honduran military responded to the protest by invading the port and arresting approximately 129 workers, who were charged with 'terrorism' and 'damaging the national economy,'" according to the ILWU. (La Prensa, San Pedro Sula, Feb. 27; Rebanadas de Realidad, Jan. 18, from International Transport Workers Federation (ITF); ILWU press release, Mar. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 9.