Thousands of dockworkers are expected to walk off their jobs today at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to protest ongoing wars in the Middle East, despite an arbitrator's ruling to ban the action.

Arbitrator John Kagel issued a ruling Wednesday ordering the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to tell its members that they must report to work today, rather than take the day off to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kagel said the union failed to comply with a similar ruling issued last week.

"We're going to approach (today) as a regular day by filing work orders, and the union is obligated to pursue them," said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the West Coast's shippers.

Despite the arbitrator's ruling, ILWU Local 13 sent an automated telephone message to dockworkers on Wednesday, reminding them of the work stoppage.

"I am calling to let you know the entire longshore division will not work the dayside on Thursday, May 1," Joe Cortez, president of ILWU Local 13, said in the prerecorded message.

"We're taking this action to support our troops and call for their immediate and safe return home," he said. "We'll be meeting on May 1 at Memorial Hall from noon to 3 p.m. And conducting important union business."

Cortez did not return several phone calls seeking comment. ILWU officials said he was in San Francisco on union business.

Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman, said the union did not formally endorse the walkout, but supported the rights of individual members to protest the wars.

"I think Joe Cortez is absolutely right,"
Merrilees said.
"Longshore workers are exercising their constitutional right to stand down on May 1 and stand up for the majority of Americans who want to see this war over, and support the troops by bringing them home now."

In the meantime, others are preparing for the eight-hour work stoppage at local ports. The APM terminal at the Port of Los Angeles is expected to be closed today in anticipation of the walkout.

Fifteen ships are scheduled to pass through the twin port complex today, but none might be unloaded if dockworkers fail to show up for work, according to Capt. Dick McKenna, executive director of the Southern California Marine Exchange.

"(Today) is going to be an average flow day," McKenna said. "We'll see how this turns out."

The work stoppage was first suggested by a group of more than 100 union delegates during a caucus held two months ago in San Francisco. A clause in the union's current contract allows workers to hold monthly "stop-work" meetings during the evening shift, when cargo shipments are considered to be lighter.

The union withdrew its formal support shortly after the PMA denied the union's request for the walkout. An arbitrator ruled last week that the ILWU had to inform its members that the protest was canceled.

Instead, the union has done just the opposite, according to Getzug.

"It's clear to us that the ILWU is saying one thing and doing another,"
Getzug said.
"While the ILWU has claimed that they abandoned plans for a protest, there's mounting evidence that the union is telling its members not to show up to work on Thursday."

Immigration rights groups also plan to hold a series of marches and rallies in Los Angeles and cities across the country today to call for reforms in immigration policies.

Some port truck drivers and dockworkers have resisted signing up for the federal Transportation Workers Identification Credential because undocumented workers do not qualify for the high-tech security card.

Two years ago, port truckers did not show up for work to attend May Day immigration rights rallies in downtown Los Angeles. Only 10 percent of the truckers showed up for work on May 1, 2006, according to port officials. It was unclear whether the truckers planned a similar action this year.