Sept. 3, 2002, 9:26AM

Teamsters endorse Perry in governor's race

AFL-CIO backs Sanchez, who leads in union support


Houston Chronicle Political Writer

In the world of labor union politics, things aren't what they used to be. Earlier this year, local Teamsters employed nonunion laborers to build their new union hall. Then, the Teamsters endorsed a Republican for Texas governor for the first time in memory when they announced on Labor Day their support for Gov. Rick Perry over Democrat Tony Sanchez. Though Teamsters periodically support Republicans for national seats, including U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, they have remained steadfastly Democratic in Texas state elections, said Dennis Bankhead, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 988 in Houston. "My memory isn't good enough to remember the last time we endorsed a Republican for governor," Bankhead said Monday. "We like to think that we vote for the (better) candidate, but when there isn't a lot of difference, we vote for the Democratic Party." Sanchez still has an overwhelming lead in union endorsements, and he added to that Monday by announcing support from the AFL-CIO. But Perry isn't conceding that part of the vote. Monday, Perry received the Teamsters endorsement in Houston at the new Teamsters hall, built with nonunion workers because Teamsters officials considered union labor too expensive. Bankhead said Perry stood out over Sanchez because the governor is proposing a mobility plan to beef up the state's highways. Most of the Teamsters' 38,000 members are truck drivers, though their membership includes dock workers and other laborers. "We think he's the best man for the job," Bankhead said. Also with Perry on Monday were members of the Texas Public Employees Association, which represents prison guards and state police officers, among others. Perry also has endorsements from other labor groups, including airline pilots and some law enforcement groups. "I am receiving this unprecedented support from the Teamsters, public servants and other labor organizations because I am the only candidate for governor with a proven record of improving Texas schools, health care and economic opportunity," Perry said. University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said that while it is unusual for a Republican gubernatorial candidate to get such endorsements, it makes sense for the Teamsters and some other unions. Nationally, some unions have been distancing themselves from Democrats as a way to increase their bargaining power, Murray said. "Here in Texas, I would guess they figure Perry is likely to win, so this endorsement might give them a little more stroke in contrast with the other unions that stick with Democrats this year," Murray said. Meanwhile, Sanchez was in Hurst to announce winning the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, which has about 230,000 members. Standing at a union hall, Sanchez promised to keep an open door at the governor's office and be a friend of organized labor in Texas. Sanchez has endorsements from more than 35 labor groups, including the Texas State Teachers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. "I want to free teachers up, so they can get back to teaching," Sanchez said in Hurst. "I'm committed to education and health care for the children of Texas." Getting the union vote in Texas isn't as important as it is in other states because this is a right-to-work state. That means Texas workers don't have to join a union to get jobs. Nationally, unions make up about 13 percent of the work force compared with about 5 percent in Texas, Murray said. And winning an endorsement doesn't guarantee overwhelming support from union membership, Murray said. For example, Al Gore won most of the union endorsements in the 2000 presidential vote, but received only about 60 percent of the votes by union members. In the campaign for another key office, U.S. Senate candidates Ron Kirk and John Cornyn had notably different plans for Labor Day. Democrat Kirk, the former Dallas mayor, started the day in El Paso, then campaigned elsewhere in West Texas. Cornyn, the Republican state attorney general, had no public appearances planned Labor Day, which traditionally is the kickoff of the fall political season. "Hopefully, everyone can take a deep breath, have a few days of remembrance, remembering the contribution and sacrifice of those people who died in the tragedies of 9/11," Cornyn said. Kirk said he'll take a break soon after Labor Day to honor the anniversary of last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Associated Press contributed to this story.


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

  Sept. 6, 2002, 12:47AM

Seafarers held as virtual prisoners

Tighter security measures cut into shore leave


They include American citizens, cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard. Many are Houston residents. Yet when they dock at American ports and coastal refineries, they are being treated like security risks, unable to leave the confines of their tankers after days at sea. They are also fed up, and on Thursday, seafarers, the Coast Guard and private industry met to discuss what can be done about what the seamen perceive as overzealous security implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks. What's happening is that port and plant officials, fearful that terrorists could use their loading docks as entry points to carry out their plans, are prohibiting seamen, both foreign and domestic, from going ashore. "They say they don't want anybody walking through the refineries because they think we are a terrorist and are going to blow somebody up," said Lou Marciello of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. "But everyone has been cleared by the Coast Guard. It's kind of dumb." The problem largely stems from extra security put in place by federal authorities that has been exacerbated by steps taken by private industry. Seafarers complain that in some cases, they are virtually being held prisoner by terminal operators. The situation is not confined to the Houston area, but rather is a problem that ports throughout the country are grappling with. American merchant marines aren't the only ones upset with the security measures. Some foreign seamen, who before Sept. 11 had some freedom of movement once they disembarked, are so upset with the new approach that they are refusing to work ships that dock in American ports. Seafarer advocates both locally and nationally say decisions made by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to keep dozens of seafarers cooped up on docked ships in American ports each day seem unrelated to any real or apparent security threats. Nationality seems to play a major role in the decisions, with Indonesians, Pakistanis and Filipinos often being denied shore leave, according to Karen Lai, the lay Catholic port chaplain in Galveston. Intensified INS paranoia about seafarers going ashore since Sept. 11 is understandable but unjustified, Lai said. "It's a knee-jerk reaction, and we need to get grip on it," Lai said. "It's punishing people who shouldn't be punished." Houston INS spokeswoman Luisa Aquino said Thursday that no one from the agency's Houston office was available to comment on shore leave policies. INS agents have inspected crew documents on more than 200 ships this year, she said. However, no records regarding how many seafarers were granted shore leave were available Thursday. Whether any documents, including a visa, give a seafarer the right to shore leave is left to the discretion of individual INS agents who visit ships, Aquino said. At some private industry terminals along the coast, virtually all access has been cut off for seafarers. Public telephones have been removed from some areas, and other docks have locked gates keep seafarers off the premises, said the Rev. Rivers Patout, chaplain of the Houston International Seafarers Center. "As a result of the tragedy of 9/11, some of the restrictions that have come into being or are being enforced much more strictly have caused tremendous anger," Patout said. "The most onerous of all burdens is the denial of shore leave for whatever reason." Crew members not only have been unable to communicate with family and friends or get necessary prescriptions filled upon entering the port but also actually have been confined aboard ship. That happened earlier this year to Joe Neudecker, a military veteran who served in the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard for 20 years before becoming a merchant marine. Neudecker, 47, of Friendswood, had been aboard a tanker for 75 days and was scheduled to go on vacation the next day when the incident at a Deer Park terminal occurred. The entire ship's crew was detained aboard ship, he said. While the problem was resolved and the crew was able to leave the vessel the next day, he said the situation was frustrating. The crew had experienced similar crackdowns in other ports, he said. "You can't detain U.S. citizens" when they have done nothing wrong, Neudecker said. But they have been detained in many cases, said Don Reamer of the MEBA. "We are not the problem, but they are treating us like we are," Reamer said. The problem has become so pervasive that Patout brought the different parties together to discuss possible solutions. The Coast Guard, the INS, the Port of Houston and political leaders sent representatives. The Houston/Galveston Navigation Safety Advisory Committee, which is composed of both public and private sector members, is expected to take the matter up later this month. The regional committee is appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. In Galveston alone this year, at least 22 ship crews have been barred from stepping ashore even to call their families on telephones they could see from the decks of their ships, Lai said. Had a seafarer taken it upon himself to dash to one of the phones and been caught, he would have faced a $3,000 fine, Lai said. Patout noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that occasional shore leave for merchant mariners is necessary. "Our own Supreme Court ruled that denial of shore leave so severely affects the mental and physical state of seafarers that it is recognized as an elemental necessity," he said. But since Sept. 11, U.S. immigration officials have denied even brief shore leave for entire crews in what seafarer advocates say are violations of rules that are followed around the world. "The United States is the only country in the world that requires visas for seafarers to get shore leave," Doug Stevenson, attorney and director of the New York-based Center for Seafarers' Rights, said Thursday. Since Sept. 11, U.S. immigration officials have denied shore leave even to some seafarers who had visas, say Stevenson and others who work with seafarers. In the Houston area, Shell Oil has been lauded for maintaining strict security but also making sure seafarers are able to get off ship and onto the company's docks. Shell said if the crew members are allowed off ship by authorities, they have to make prior contact with the company's dock officials to come ashore. Shell makes available a van ride from the dock to the perimeter of its property 24 hours a day, said Dave McKinney, spokesman for both the Shell refinery and Shell chemical plant in Deer Park. Outside the company fence line, they can catch a cab or a previously arranged ride, he said. "We recognize they have got family to call and have got things to do," he said. When they come back, they must pass through security and show their identification, McKinney said. If they have the right clearance, they are given a ride back to the vessel where they can get back on board. At no time are the crew members allowed to roam the dock unattended, he noted. "We have had no problems, and they are very receptive to any kind of rules," McKinney said. "We kind of look at them as partners here." Wayne Farthing of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, said Shell is "leading the way" in making it possible for seafarers to leave vessels to attend to personal business. Some other facilities have "chosen to ignore the problem by locking everything down," Farthing said. Patout said some restrictions that have been put in place are beyond any kind of local control. For example, if a seafarer lands in New York, there is an automatic restriction extended to other U.S. ports. "If the seafarer is from the wrong country or if the dock facility authorities permit no one to exit the ship, the seafarer has become a prisoner aboard the ship," Patout said. "The question in my mind is, does this prevent terrorism or promote it?"

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle


  Sept. 12, 2002, 9:04PM

'Tarmac' crackdown under fire

Critics say INS roundup targeted immigrants, not terrorists


Some of the illegal immigrants rounded up Monday as part of the crackdown at Bush Intercontinental Airport had resigned their airport job weeks or months earlier, officials confirmed Thursday. In addition to the 143 people indicted on charges of falsifying documents, the Immigration and Naturalization Service rounded up 49 people-- some of whom no longer worked at the airport -- on simple immigration violations. Civil libertarians say that news calls into question the government's claim it acted to ensure that terrorists do not have access to the airport. "You're not protecting security at the airport by arresting people who no longer work at the airport," said David A. Kahne, a local representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. Critics of the sweep, known as "Operation Tarmac," plan to hold a news conference this morning. INS spokeswoman Luisa Aquino said she could not say how many of those apprehended no longer worked at the airport, but that some had left after being forewarned of the crackdown. "We were provided the list of people who worked at the airport" in February, Aquino said. That list was used to determine who worked there illegally, even though the crackdown came six months later. In April, then-Mexican Consul General Enrique Buj Flores publicly warned illegal immigrants working at the airport that a raid was imminent. He suggested they turn themselves in or leave their jobs. One who heeded the warning was Leticia Salas Ordorica, 23, said her husband, Jose Jasso. Salas Ordorica, a native of Mexico, quit her job at an airport sandwich shop a few months ago, Jasso said. "She was afraid after Sept. 11" that she would get in trouble for working at the airport, Jasso said. Though she resigned and no longer worked anywhere, she was arrested at her home Monday, Jasso said. Though his wife could not work legally in the United States, Jasso said, she had an application pending with the INS to become a legal resident. Salas Ordorica stands charged with misdemeanor possession of fraudulent identification, said U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Nancy Herrera. Only those whose names appeared on a list of people with active airport security badges were arrested, she said. Eduardo Ibarrola, the current Mexican consul general, said U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby had told him that some of those arrested had resigned from their airport jobs but neglected to then cancel their security clearance. "If they are really no longer working, I see no use to arrest them for security," Ibarrola said. Less is known about the 49 others apprehended merely on immigration violations. Aquino said they had worked illegally but had not falsified identification to get a security badge. The government, she said, continues to investigate airport restaurants and other companies that hired the workers. "If the employer is knowingly allowing illegal aliens to work, that employer could face fines or criminal charges," Aquino said. But critics note that no alleged terrorists were arrested, causing them to question whether the operation was intended to fight terrorism or to crack down on illegal immigration. "What went on was largely a standard INS roundup," contends the ACLU's Kahne. "This is a colossal waste of resources -- resources we need to really fight terrorism." Representatives of the AFL-CIO, Catholic Charities and Central American immigrant groups also plan to protest Operation Tarmac today. Representatives attribute the unusually long time to organize the protest to a change in the perception toward immigrants. "There hasn't been much of an uproar because there's fear," said Adriana Cadena, representative of the Service Employees International Union. Ibarrola said one woman quit her job at an airport restaurant after hearing the Mexican government's warning last April, but the restaurant couldn't find a replacement, and the manager eventually persuaded her to return. The airport, like the economy in general, needed the cheap labor from illegal workers, Ibarrola said. "What will happen now," he said, "is that your airport sandwich will cost $10 instead of $2."


Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle