Workers returned to the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal on Thursday to continue unloading a barge carrying wind turbine components that sat largely untouched during a weeklong stoppage that local longshoremen staged to protest the hiring decisions of Vineyard Wind, the developer of the nation's first utility-scale offshore wind farm.
The turbines, 62 of which are slated for installation south of Martha's Vineyard this year and next year, are being assembled first at a publicly owned pier in New Bedford that the state government built for the offshore wind industry.
As part of an arrangement to provide enough clean energy to power about 400,000 homes in Massachusetts, Vineyard Wind committed to constructing its wind farm with a diverse, local workforce composed primarily of union members.
But due to federal labor law restrictions that prevented unions outside the building trades from signing onto a 500-job pre-hire agreement, a predominantly Black union of dock workers in New Bedford — Local 1413 of the International Longshoremen's Association — was left to negotiate its own hiring agreement with Vineyard Wind years later, after much of the project's most essential and lucrative work had already been assigned to other unions.
Kevin Rose, the president of 1413, said that when construction for Vineyard Wind got underway in New Bedford the previous week, his union members had only been guaranteed about a dozen part-time jobs tying ships to the Marine Commerce Terminal.
The union began picketing outside the main gates to the pier on May 26, shutting down work with the help of solidarity from other unions that the longshoremen initially competed with for jobs on the project.
After a costly delay that lasted nearly a week, Vineyard Wind reached an agreement with the ILA on Thursday that guarantees full-time work to seven local longshoremen and part-time work for more than a dozen other union members, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
The agreement also included training for longshoremen to learn to maneuver turbine components around the pier with ship cranes and vehicles, a stipulation that Rose characterized as an important victory for the union.
"That way, when the next project comes, we won't have a problem like this," Rose said in an interview on Thursday. "We'll be able to run the equipment. There won't be no excuse that we ain't trained."
Historically, Local 1413 of the ILA has been a reliable source of employment for Cape Verdean men in New Bedford, who often faced employment discrimination in the city's founding industries like whaling, textile manufacturing and fishing. Rose, a third-generation longshoreman of Cape Verdean descent, estimated that about three-fourths of his fellow dock workers in New Bedford today have Cape Verdean ancestry, and nearly all of them live within the city itself.
A spokesperson for Vineyard Wind, Andrew Doba, said the six-day delay will not affect the company's goal to begin delivering electricity to Massachusetts before the end of this year.
"We're pleased that the ILA has returned to work," the company said in a prepared 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."
This story is a production of a partnership between WBUR and The Public's Radio in Rhode Island in which the news organizations collaborate and share stories. It was originally published by The Public's Radio.