Dozens of Miami longshoremen and their families gathered Tuesday in Overtown to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1416.
Some donned their their traditional overalls and crisp white shirts, others came straight from a sweaty shift at the port still wearing their neon vests, for a tribute to Florida’s first union of Black workers at Ninth Street Pedestrian mall. The celebration featured music, food and a school supply and backpack giveaway for kids.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, PortMiami Director Juan Kuryla, Local 1416 President Torin Ragin and International Longshoremen’s Association International President Harold Daggett congratulated union members on the milestone.
“85 years feels nice,” said retired longshoreman Moses Ragin, 75. Moses Ragin is the uncle of the union’s president. “I’ve been here 45 of them. It’s nice seeing the fellas, reminiscing about old times.”
Ragin and about 20 other retired longshoremen ate lunch at the union hall across the street from the historic Lyric Theater. The celebration served as a reunion for old timers who left the docks behind long ago, but had grown accustomed to visiting the union hall regularly before the COVID-19 pandemic to keep up with colleagues.
Founded by a group of 10 Black men in 1936, the longshoremen Local 1416 was one of the few labor unions that allowed Black members at the time when an hour of work paid just 36 cents. The union has grown to nearly 800 members who do the mostly invisible, grueling work that makes PortMiami run.
Longshoremen are in charge of loading and unloading goods from cargo and cruise ships. They operate machines like forklifts, cranes and trucks and greet cruise passengers and load their luggage. The Local 1416 longshoremen work side by side with workers from Local 1922, Miami’s other longshoremen union. Local 1922 longshoremen are known as “checkers,” managing the administrative aspects of loading and unloading ships smoothly.
The COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the cruise industry, reducing working hours for the longshoremen. Now that three cruise ships are back to operating with passengers at PortMiami and the cargo side has long bounced back, Torin Ragin, the union’s president, said he’s optimistic about the future.
“I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Vincent Stewart, 63, has worked as a longshoreman since 1977, and he hopes he has another 20 years on the job. His stepfather encouraged him to find work at the port during a summer home from college. Before that he had worked at a school cafeteria serving and washing dishes.
“On the first day I made more money than I had in my whole life,” he said. He never looked back.
David Lavarity, 77, said he hopes the Local 1416 will be around for at least another 85 years. He joined when he was 18 years old and retired about three years ago, he said.
“I put three kids through high school, two through college,” he said. “The work is hard but we did it.”
The work is physically taxing, and knee and back pain are common. Workers who endure the aches, pains and long hours usually stick with it. Today a starting wage for a longshoreman is $20 an hour. After six years of working at least 700 hours per year, the job pays $37 an hour.
Throughout its history, the union has been active in the community, participating in local blood drives, get-out-the-vote efforts and speaking at new school dedications. At Tuesday’s celebration, representatives from the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group that works to restore voting rights for Floridians with criminal records, spoke with longshoremen and other passersby about how to register.
Crystal Pittman, 48, is an administrative assistant for the union. Her father, Clarence Pittman, served as president of the union from 1982 to 2013. She is glad to see the union keeping the tradition of providing living wages and community service.
“Through three generations, it continues on, supporting the Overtown community,” she said. “We welcome everyone. That’s the legacy of the longshoremen.”