By Barney Blakeney
As the local International Longshoremen’s Association union affiliate writhes with internal struggles, its leadership says continued growth will ease some of those pains.
In July, the S.C. Port Authority reported a nine percent increase in the volume of cargo handled over that of the 2018 fiscal year. The Port handled 18,307 vehicles at Columbus Street Terminal in June for a total of 194,771 vehicles in fiscal 2019. Total breakbulk cargo was 625,323 pier tons for the fiscal year. SCPA saw a total of 213,081 cruise passengers and 1,696 ships docked in fiscal 2019, SCPA reported.
For the ILA’s Local 1422 workforce of approximately 1,200 members that means more man-hours for one of the community’s highest paid hourly workers. And it means growth, said ILA President Kenny Riley. He said the larger ships coming into Charleston’s port carrying more cargo will need some 2,000 more workers.
But not only will ILA members benefit, Charleston’s viable port system is an economic engine that drives indirect jobs for others, Riley said. Deepening Charleston’s harbor to 54 feet means bigger ships coming through the Suez and Panama canals can dock regardless of tidal conditions. That’s an economic generator that’s comparable to the former Charleston Naval Base, he said. It will spawn more jobs in the local automotive and aerospace industries and will impact local public education that must train and prepare workers for those industries, he said.
Riley said the port’s success means success for all local workers. “It’s a workers’ market,” he said. “Everywhere you look you see ‘hiring’ signs. Even as the $15 per hour minimum wage advances, we’re not just talking about jobs, but good paying jobs that give workers options beyond the kitchen of restaurants. The Hugh Leatherman terminal in North Charleston and improvements to Interstate Highway 26 represents millions of dollars in investment that will have a positive impact on the entire labor force,” Riley predicts. “In the long term, the port will continue to be a major player in the local workforce,” he said.
S.C. Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome indicated similar sentiments in his July remarks saying, “As we head into fiscal 2020, we will continue investing in our infrastructure to handle growth, as well as supporting our employees and the entire maritime community who make these significant achievements possible.”