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Jun 30, 2015

MY 41 YEARS AS A LONGSHOREMAN IN THE ILA


BY EVELIO PEREZ
Me and my Dad
    One unsuspecting and normal day in March of 1972 my Father, Evelio Perez Sr. (RIP), who had been working in the Port of Miami for some time, along with my twin brother, Eddie Perez (RIP), tells me that there is an opening in the docks for one worker.  
 My immediate reaction was to jump off my chair and yell in total euphoria, just knowing that the starting hourly wage was $3.15 an hour was enough to get me very exited. That was a huge amount of money those days when you could get gasoline for 20 cents a gallon! Heck, my folks even bought a house in Coral Gables for 15 thousand dollars! 
I was to report at 5:30 am to the union hall in the port and hopefully work as a Checker for The I.L.A. (International Longshoremen's Association) early next morning.

Me and my twin 
brother Eddie (RIP) 

    I remember showing up in my first day at the I.L.A. Local 1922 Union Hall around 5:30 am sitting in a big room full of people wearing their hard-hats. All of them were waiting for their name to be called. As the room started to empty out, my name was finally called by this big intimidating burly man named Bill Boyle. He says with his heavy, raspy voice, "Hey kid, you're Bebo's (My Dad's nickname) son right?" Of course I stumbled and babbled around just to say the words yes sir. Then he says "go to CCT Shed C and start at 8:00 am............ Good Luck"

      Yes, on my very first day I was sent to one of the busiest companies in The Port of Miami as a shipping clerk to work at receiving and delivering cargo in this huge and busy warehouse.
  My first thoughts when I got there (before work started) was that there was no way that I could last in this crazy place, it was a complete mad house! There were drivers everywhere and they all wanted their cargo. I was stunned and overwhelmed. 
Little did I know that as soon as 8:00 am (starting time) came around, the Checkers would quickly have everything running smoothly and under full control.

40 Years of service award
   My Dad (RIP) also had made many friends in the Local that helped me get through those first couple of weeks, including a very nice older gentleman named (same as my Dad and I) Evelio Bosh. After introducing himself, Mr. Bosh said to me, "don't worry about a thing kid, just stick with me, and we'll get through this day together." 
  On that first day, from 8 am all the way to quitting time at 5 pm, Mr. Bosh was taking care of me like he was my own father. He showed me the correct way to receive and deliver cargo, he would also explain that any one little error could lead to thousands of dollars in loses to the customer.  
With President Jerry Becerra
   It was a very busy day, the work was tiring, relentless and never ending, but the professionalism and experience of the Checkers always kept up with the busy work load in an impressive and orderly fashion. There is no doubt in my mind that if not for the help of Mr. Bosh and the rest of the Checkers, I would not have survived that hectic first day. 
Here's Butch having some
 nice words to tell me.......
 I remember my Dad would everyday give me the drill, "always be neat, always bring your tape measure, clipboard, pens, pencils and your hardhat." He would also tell me, "it's always better to write more information on the interchange than less, you never know if that extra bit of information would be useful and important in the future."
My father was not only my best friend, he was my mentor. He was the most honest and kindest man I've ever known and there was no way that I was going to let him down.
Monument for 
the fallen
  The port is not an easy place to work in, there are dangers all around where you could easily be hurt badly or even get killed (as many have) in a split second if you let your guard down. That is why there is no substitution for experience and doing the job the correct and safe way. That one mistake could either cost thousands of dollars or your precious life.......That is the life of an I.L.A. dockworker. 

 The hours are always unpredictable, you are on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week............ that was part of the deal. It could be a regular starting time of 8 am or ship times that could start close to midnight. There was a lot of times that the hours turned into days in which turned into a very descent paycheck. But let me be perfectly clear, there is no substitute for having the right amount of training and skills to efficiently work in the port. 
With V.P. Luis Gonzalez
  There are many reasons why I love The ILA, one being the relations you have with fellow workers. From day one there was always the feeling that all my co-workers were watching my back as I in turn watched theirs. We all yearned for the same things in life, a good home, good wage, good health care and the ability to provide our families a good and healthy environment to grow as good citizens of this great country.

With friend and boss,
 Guy Colicelli
   You never knew what you were going to do or where you were going to work. We expected anything and everything. We could either stuff or strip containers, reefers, rail cars, or receive and deliver cargo to the customers (truckers). We could work cargo or cruise ships, container yards, car yards, offloading or loading loose cargo, cars, heavy equipment or containers under slow stick cranes or fast gantry cranes. All of these jobs I did in South Florida ports, which included Port Everglades, The Port of Miami and even some warehouses around the airport. I was even Chief Clerk (The Boss) for 4 years. In my last few years I worked in a trailer command center in the Port of Miami (POMTOC) set up to do the work with computers and cameras.

With long time friend,
 Juan Losada
  Throughout my 41 years as a longshoreman, there have been many people that took their time and effort to be helpful and nice, like Pres. Jerry Becerra, V.P. Luis Gonzalez, Sec. Butch Vanderwyde, Walter Bretana, Luis Meurice, Bob Fiore, Tony Arrufat, Johnny Bruns, Tony Soto, Rudy Valdez, Evelio Bosh, Phil Knapp, Freddy Castillo (RIP), Irving Schwartzberg (RIP), Guy Colicelli, Juan Losada and the rest of my brothers in the local. When times were tough and believe me there were plenty, these great men were always there watching my back.


Esophageal Cancer
   In 1997 I got the unexpected and devastating news that I had esophageal cancer. I knew back then that statistics gave me and anybody that got this horrible disease a 5% chance of survival. So I basically said as much to everyone. I would tell all that would listen that I probably won't be back (I truly believed that). But true to form, my boss at that time the late Irving Schwartzberg (RIP) assured me that I was coming back and that my steady job would be there............. I did and it was.

  The operation as successful as it was, left me with one paralyzed vocal cord during the procedure (I had no voice). My stomach replaced my esophagus and literally moved close to my left lung where it was not able to expand as needed to freely breathe after a tiring day.
  The operation to remove my cancerous esophagus was experimental and the complications that arose from it required another major operation, just to save my life. But with God's grace and the many prayers from many friends and family, the cancer had not spread to other parts of my body.

Me with Vivian on our 
wedding day   
   My wife and best friend Vivian (who showed her love many times over), stayed with me in the hospital for 37 days and nights. She never went home! She sometimes didn't know if I was going to make it on certain days, but she persevered. My loving mother was also there most of the time (at one time hospitalized herself during my stay), giving Vivian much needed breaks, like bathing, lunch, dinner and short naps.


    When I finally left the hospital, I was a total mess. I was so weak that I was barely able to walk. I had to regain my strength just to walk again. I couldn't sleep (without chocking a few times a night), walk, talk or able to breathe very well on my own. It was going to be a very long and rough road ahead for me to be able to be well enough to provide for my loving family. My days as a Longshoreman and my ability to provide for my family seemed in serious doubt.


My Family
   But.................. for the three straight months that I was out, my brothers in the Union passed the hat between most in the local and collected enough money that actually took care of all of my bills, including the mortgage. That money from my brothers of the Local was all I needed to strive to work harder and get better, it was heaven sent!

  Well, to make the story short, I rehabilitated myself enough through hard work and much needed therapy to walk and talk, but was having a tough time adjusting to my new and dilapidated body............... I would never be the same. The smell of car fumes alone was having a effect on my ability to breathe, and my lack of sleep because of my condition was taking a huge toll on my health and my family.

My work station
   When I did return, knowing of my delicate condition, President Jerry Becerra and my bosses, Irving Swartzberg (RIP) and Guy Colicelli did everything to make my return possible, permanent and successful.


Getting my watch! 
  
  From day one after my return, they bent over backwards and allowed me to work inside, away from the damaging dust and diesel fumes out on the field. I worked the computers in a container yard (POMTOC) receiving and delivering containers, dealing with drivers just as I had on my first day of work 41 years ago until my final day of my retirement.

   My journey began with me wanting to make good money, have good insurance and the ability to have all the comforts that my family and I needed. But I also ended up with an undying allegiance and respect that I have grown to have for this great Union and the awesome band of brothers that I've grown to love.

Thanks to Danny and 
Michelle for this awesome
 and yummy cake!!!!!! 
    So on behalf of my father Evelio (Bebo) Perez (RIP), 30 years in the Local, my twin brother Eduardo (Eddie) Perez (RIP), 30 years (who should have retired with me) in the Local, and myself...... 41 years in the Local, I want to thank God, my loving family and all of my brothers in the I.L.A. for everything.
 I am a better person having known you all.

See more Pictures here.... http://evelio-perez.blogspot.com/2014/11/ila-pictures.html

MAY GOD BLESS THE I.L.A.




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a really good article on your union, simple and very personal bio… Thank you for sharing this one. A must read article! Proud Teamster!

Anonymous said...

Really interesting and thorough way you say this story, thanks.