NEW BEDFORD — Vineyard Wind and the local longshoremen’s union reached a contract late Wednesday night, ending a week-long strike that shut down work unloading the first vessel carrying wind turbine parts to the Port of New Bedford.
Members of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1413 (ILA) were protesting Vineyard Wind’s hiring practices. They said the company had not honored its commitment to hire both Black and local workers and had excluded ILA members from work that has been in their jurisdiction for close to a century.
“For my community, the Cape Verdean community, this is a guarantee in writing that we will not be left behind,” union president Kevin Rose said Thursday morning, as ILA members returned to work.
“They didn’t want us to be a part of it. But this is our port,” said Eboni Gelmete, a 29-year-old ILA member. “This means more work. Steady work. That’s what we were asking for.”
Prior to the contract, 12 ILA members had part-time positions on the Vineyard Wind project out of more than 300 union workers, most of which hailed from the Boston area. The New Bedford longshoremen were operating on a “handshake deal” with Vineyard Wind, Rose said. The contract now guarantees a 40-hour week for some workers, codifies ILA jurisdiction on the project and hires additional part-time ILA members.
Vineyard Wind also committed $1 million to a workforce development fund, aimed at “ensuring the port workforce is adequately trained and certified,” according to a letter signed by Vineyard Wind executives.
“We’re pleased that the ILA has returned to work,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller, in a written statement. “We’ve made an arrangement with the local stevedoring company to ensure that local workers will fill the jobs that are necessary to build this first in the nation project.”
Vineyard Wind is the first major offshore wind project to be built off the East Coast. The 62-turbine project is a joint venture between Avangrid (a subsidiary of Spanish renewable energy giant Iberdrola) and Danish firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. It is expected to come online by the end of the year, delivering enough electricity to the state’s grid to power upwards of 400,000 homes.
But of all the offshore wind sites slated to line the Port of New Bedford in the coming years, Rose said that Vineyard Wind was the only developer to try to cut the ILA out of securing a clear contract. That stood in contrast to the company’s commitments to hire local, diverse and union labor, he said.
On Wednesday last week, a nearly 500-foot vessel arrived in New Bedford from Portugal carrying six parts that make up the tower for an 837-foot-high wind turbine. Last Thursday, city politicians and Vineyard Wind executives lined up at the yard, donning hard hats and safety vests to welcome the first of hundreds of such vessels slated to unload on the Port of New Bedford as offshore wind development ramps up along the East Coast.
“This, today, is about celebrating that offshore wind is really happening,” Moeller said last week. “This is only the first towers. Much more components will arrive.”
Yet by last Friday morning, after the first two tower components were unloaded, Rose said it became clear Vineyard Wind was using other workers to fill roles that the company had agreed in a “handshake deal” would be staffed by ILA members. They formed a picket line, blocking two entrances to the shipping yard. They held signs demanding a contract and calling out Vineyard Wind for not honoring its commitment to hiring a local and diverse workforce.
Members of other unions working on the project turned off their machines in solidarity with the longshoremen, grinding all work on the site to a halt. The ILA held the picket line for six consecutive days as ILA leadership negotiated with General Electric and Vineyard Wind.
“We wouldn’t cross their picket line,” said Pat Donlan, council representative for the Boston-based Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, which is part of a coalition of unions that signed a contract with Vineyard Wind in 2021.
Vineyard Wind and the ILA reached an agreement late Wednesday night, returning to work early Thursday morning.
Longshoremen have deep roots on the New Bedford waterfront. Union members, most of whom are Cape Verdean, have unloaded cargo on the port for decades. Work has been slow in recent years, Rose said, and offshore wind represents an opportunity to rebuild the union with steady, full-time employment.
But in 2021, when Vineyard Wind hosted a ceremony on the New Bedford waterfront to sign the first labor agreement in the offshore wind industry, committing the project to hiring 500 union workers, the ILA was left out of the agreement. The unions contracted were mostly based in the Boston area, Rose said.
The company made further commitments to hiring a local and diverse workforce. But unlike the other unions, Vineyard Wind offered the ILA only a handshake deal.
It turned out a handshake wasn’t enough.
“Do I think they got pushed into hiring minorities and local people? Definitely,” Rose said. “I don’t think they would have done this on their own.”
Email Will Sennott at email@example.com.