The Locals

Amidst the towering cranes, clanging cargo containers and massive ships on the Los Angeles and Long Beach waterfront are thousands of workers who keep the stuff we buy moving.

Here you’ll find the longshoremen: the dockworkers, crane operators and drivers who load and unload cargo from a docked ship – they can earn up to $100,000 a year with good benefits if they are in the union.

You’ll find the casual workers, who live paycheck to paycheck, waiting each day for their number to be called so they can get a job.

You’ll see the linesmen, who tie the ships to the docks with rope. Frosty is a linesman. He dropped his cell phone “in the drink” while he was tying up a ship. There’s Spinner, a former union leader, who has fought to protect the benefits and jobs for his union “brothers and sisters” at a time of big changes at the ports.

You’ll find women who years ago fought to join the union when it was still mostly a man’s world.

You’ll also come across oldtimers like Johnny O, a lines bureau dispatcher. He calls himself a pirate. His parrot, Bok-Bok, nuzzles in the crook of his neck and nibbles on his cigarette.

Leave the docks and head to Utro’s, a San Pedro cafe, where you can study the walls plastered with old photos of longshoremen, worn postcards, and newspaper clippings that tell stories about life on the waterfront. Behind the bar, you’ll meet Nancy Utovac, who arm-wrestled her sister to win her father’s spot in the union, and her brother, Joe, who took her to the union hall on her first day.

Everyone here has a nickname and a story.

Life at the Ports

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