Island native Benny Holland Jr. in July was elected executive vice president of the International Longshoremen’s Association making him the second-highest-ranking official in the largest union of maritime workers in North America.
Holland who had been general vice president was elected during the association’s 34th quadrennial convention in Hollywood Fla.
Here’s Holland’s take on the importance of unions and their place in the future.
Q: How did you join the union?
A: I started working as a longshoreman at the age of 18 but was not eligible to join the union until I became 21 years old. At that time I made application and had to be accepted for membership by the union members. On Sept. 8 1963 I made application and was accepted by the membership to become a member of ILA Local #307.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was stacking 140-pound sacks of flour in the hold of the ship.
Q: When did you get interested in labor leadership? What was the first elected post you held?
A: After attending union meetings for several years I became very interested in the goals and objectives of the union and felt like I would like to play a bigger part in helping to achieve those goals and objectives. Therefore in 1969 I ran for my first office in the union and was elected Assistant Business Agent.
Q: Was there a boss or supervisor who gave you good advice? What did you learn?
A: As a longshoreman I had numerous bosses but the one who taught me the most was my future father-in-law. He told me to work hard listen to my superiors and I would earn the respect of all those I worked with.
Q: Why are you so passionate about unions? Why do you believe in them so strongly?
A: Because I know firsthand that there are many workers in this country who would not have a livable wage health care or a pension if it were not for the union. I believe so strongly in the union because as a young man I saw my father work 30 years for one company as a loyal and dedicated employee who left his family during Hurricane Carla to protect the interests of the company only to be dismissed by that same company several years later and displaced by a younger person. I know that if my father had been a union member that would not have happened.
Q: Where do you see organized labor going? What does the future look like?
A: I would say that as long as the country continues to be a service nation and not an industrial nation I see organized labor staying flat and not growing. However as workers’ wages continue to decrease and benefits continue to be cut I think people will realize the importance of belonging to a union and that will result in an increase in union membership.
Q: What are some of the things labor has done that has made life easier for all working people — union or nonunion.
A: Thanks to the unions the country has a 40-hour workweek holidays vacations overtime pay pensions and most important health care for themselves and their families.
Q: If a young person came to you asking for advice about a career on the waterfront what would say?
A: Because the maritime industry is becoming more automated and containerized I would suggest to a young person who would like to work on the waterfront that he seek out a port that specializes in containers and automation.