ILA Strikes in Connecticut Port Over Rights to Handle Wind Farm Components
Members of a small local within the International Longshoremen's Association are on strike at the New London State Pier in Connecticut in an action against Ørsted that could threaten construction on one of the first U.S. offshore wind farms. Picket lines went up on Monday, October 23, after the union said the wind farm developer had failed to respond to its earlier protest and call for talks on an issue concerning the operations at the staging port for the wind farm materials.
At issue is the operation of specialized equipment known as self-propelled modular transporters used to move the components for the wind turbines. Ørsted and Eversource entered into an agreement with the Connecticut Port Authority and the State of Connecticut for the redevelopment of the terminal to become the staging port for future wind farms. Large components, including blades for the turbines, are being shipped to the terminal which is known as Gateway New London, and then loaded for transfer to the installation site offshore.
The nature of the equipment requires specialized handling during the unloading and loading and training to operate the equipment. Instead of the ILA operating the equipment, it is being operated by members of another union, the Operating Engineers, because as Ørsted notes the ILA members are not trained to operate the equipment.
The wind farm developer told local reporters that it is offering to provide funds toward the cost of training the ILA members so that they could compete for future assignments. Once trained, they said the union could bid for work within those scopes, but currently, they are ineligible.
Blades staged at the recently completed terminal in New London to serve the offshore wind farms (CT Port Authority)
ILA Local 1411’s leadership admits that they require training, an issue they said was first discussed with Ørsted nearly three years ago. In September, the national organization joined with the local which reportedly has just 26 members to demonstrate full support in what is becoming a broader jurisdictional dispute between the two unions. ILA locals along the U.S. East Coast staged protests to show their support for the New London organization. National leadership fears that this could become an issue at additional wind ports and potentially spread to other types of cargo in ports.
Ørsted contends that the union is demanding future guarantees after the training that only its members would operate the specialized equipment instead of competing for the assignments. The ILA local argues that Ørsted is asking them to sign away future rights to the work after they are trained. They claim that moving all forms of cargo, including specialized equipment, is work for ILA members.
The return of work to the State Pier was a boost to the local which has dwindled in size as the New London port declined. They highlight that they waited patiently for the new work related to the wind farms, while critics note that the local is so small that it has had to bring in workers from other regions, including neighboring states, to staff the work already assigned to it.
Components for the South Fork Wind project, one of the first two commercial-scale wind farms under construction in the U.S., were due to begin shipping out from New London to the installation site. South Fork however is a relatively small project with a capacity of 132 MW from 12 turbines but it is expected to be followed by the larger Revolution Wind (704 MW with up to 100 turbines) and then the Sunrise Wind (924 MW with approximately 95 turbines) projects which would also be staged in New London.
The local says it began the strike because Ørsted has not engaged in negotiations and canceled talks scheduled for last week. The company says it continues to offer to provide money toward the training of the ILA members and that the talks were postponed until the ILA and Operational Engineers resolve fundamental issues over their jurisdictional dispute. Local 1411 says the strike will continue until talks resume aimed at “getting Orsted to acknowledge our core jurisdiction and train ILA members to support the offshore wind initiative.”