Blue-collar jobs available by thousands in California



Thousands are expected to seek jobs where pay can top $100,000 a year.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's not the California Lottery, but in the coming weeks thousands of people are expected to try for a chance at landing a high-paying job as a dockworker as the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach look for help handling a crush of cargo.
At a time when manufacturing jobs are being shipped overseas, employment on the docks in the nation's largest port complex has become highly prized by people hungry for six-figure pay and health benefits for blue-collar work.
"The other good jobs have all been exported, they've all been outsourced," said Dave Arian, president of the International Longshore & amp; Warehouse Union Local 13. "But they can't move the waterfront. They can't outsource the port."
Organizers figure more than 20,000 people will apply, but only 3,000 will make it on the roster of casual workers hired on a daily basis as needed. Those who manage to get on the roll can accumulate work hours and eventually become fully registered longshoremen, potentially earning more than $100,000 a year.
Potential wages
Starting hourly pay for casual hires is $20.66 an hour, and longshore workers at the top of the pay scale make $28.68 an hour. Add in overtime and shift differentials and earnings can grow significantly.
In 2003, fully registered longshoremen earned an annual average of $89,484, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping companies. Registered longshoremen also receive free health benefits, pension and employer-sponsored 401(k) plans.
By comparison, the mean hourly wage paid to workers in white-collar occupations was $21.09 in 2002, the most recent data compiled by the Labor Department. Workers in blue-collar jobs earned a mean hourly wage of $14.51 for the same year.
Blue-collar population
"Twenty-five years ago it was far easier for somebody without a college degree to have a job you could support a family on that provided some security and good benefits," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "Longshore is a well-paying job. There's not a lot of jobs like that."
Some jobs in auto manufacturing or those available in the heyday of the U.S. steel industry also paid well. But many of those positions have been lost as companies cut labor costs by moving operations overseas. The manufacturing sector lost jobs for 43 consecutive months before stabilizing in March.
People without a college degree, who last year made up an estimated 71 percent of U.S. workers, have seen their wages stagnate or fall, Mishel said.
Union value
"A big part of the erosion is the fact that blue-collar workers are far less likely now to be unionized," he said.
Longshore jobs pay well because the union has fought over the years for good benefits for its 10,500 members, Arian said.
The ILWU's current contract was forged in 2002 during a bitter labor dispute with shipping companies. Longshoremen were locked out by employers who accused them of conducting a work slowdown. The 10-day shutdown stranded nearly 200 vessels outside West Coast ports, costing the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a day.
The union and PMA finally agreed on the current process for recruiting more workers. Last week, both sides decided to promote 1,000 casual workers a step closer to full longshore status and agreed to add the 3,000 casual hires.
Eventually, two drawings will be held to select 3,000 applicants.
Arian cautioned job hopefuls: "You may make a lot of money, but you may find yourself two, three months without anything."

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