Longshoreman has kept cargo moving for 56 years – as featured in SFGate.com

Johnie Thomas has been working the ports since 1956 . This year, at 79, he will retire from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Below is a summary of his story – the Longshoreman’s story – as featured in the SFGate.com article.

“When I started on the waterfront in 1956, they didn’t have containers. It was all ‘hand jive’ – boxes, sacks, loose cargo, you name it. You had a big longshoreman’s hook that you carried in your back pocket, and also a sack hook for carrying 100-pound burlap bags. Rice, sugar, coffee. I lost my fingerprints from working burlap every day. We didn’t wear gloves.”

Johnie, nicknamed ‘Bubblegum’ by his working buddies, started working in Stockton at the age of 23. In 1969, he made the switch to the Bay Area to master the various driving vehicles – top pickers, strads, forklifts and heavy lifts. During this time, the cargos and containers we see today had begun to take over the ports.

In 1986, Johnie became a walking boss and worked the night shifts.

“I’ve always worked nights. It started as a way to escape the summer heat in Stockton and then I just stuck with it. I work from eight to 12 hours, sometimes until 5 or 6 a.m. No problem. My longest stretch without time off is 36 nights straight. I’m one of the hungry bosses.”

Johnie also met and knew the late and great Harry Bridges.

“Oh, yeah. I knew (the late ILWU union leader) Harry Bridges. Most fantastic man I’ve ever met in regard to labor. He didn’t care if he had holes in his shoes. He brought the rank and file together regardless of race or ethnicity, molded them like a family. That’s all he was concerned about.”

Read the entire SFGate.com article. Edward Guthmann reports, 5/29/2012.

[Image credit: Nick]