Casual Longshoreman: Loading and Unloading Cruise Ship Luggage

As a casual longshoreman, I loaded and unloaded luggage from cruise ships in Alaska. It was seasonal work, working through the Alaska International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU) Seward.

Working the Cruise Ships in Alaska

While spending time in Seward, Alaska, I had the opportunity to work as a "casual longshoreman,” loading and unloading luggage from cruise ships. I heard of the opportunity while having breakfast in a local restaurant. A union worker with a job at the cruise ships told me if I wanted to work to show up at the union hall at 4:00 p.m.

Cruise Ship in Seward, AlaskaCruise Ship in Seward, Alaska, with Tourists and Their Luggage

I entered the union hall. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what I was doing, or what to expect. I must have looked lost, because someone told me, “Sign that sheet over there.” So, I did.

I sat down and talked a little to another guy who also was there for the first time. Someone came out of the office and started calling names. People filed up as they were called, were assigned jobs, and left. Being a casual, and a casual who had never worked there before, I was called second to the last.

They checked my identification and asked some security questions. They told me they technically didn’t need me. But, they said to show up at 10:45 p.m. that evening at the security shack at the dock. When I left, I didn’t have the feeling I really had a job that night.

I showed up at the dock at 10:30 p.m. and checked in at the shack. They took my driver's license and told me to wait over there. Fifteen minutes later, they called my name. I was issued a security badge. I was told, "Don’t lose that, or we won’t give your license back.” I followed the rest of the crowd into a lunchroom sort of building, got a fluorescent yellow vest, and sat down.

Seward Waterfront CampgroundThis Seward Waterfront Campground Is a City Campground, a Favorite among RVers

The cruise ship was coming into port. About ten of the regulars donned life vests and went out to tie up the ship. I wasn’t told to do anything, so I waited. After everyone was back, four men with lists started calling out names to form crews.

Our group filed outside. The leader addressed me in a pleasant voice. He stated, “I’m Rich. You must be new. I’ll look out for you tonight. Watch out. Don’t get hurt. What do they call you?” I introduced myself and started to feel less like an alien.

Rich explained how the unloading would work, and assigned me to the inside of a truck. While I was in the back of the truck with another worker, a baggage cart would be lifted up to the back. We would take the suitcases and stack them in the truck, like cord wood.

After two hours, we got a break. There were doughnuts in the lunchroom. Rich told me, “Take two; you’ll only get one chance.” After 15 minutes, we went back to our work.

Two hours later we broke for lunch. I had brought my lunch, so I stayed at the dock. Most of the others left and came back in an hour. We were done after another two hours work.

We would load the ship at 11:00 the next morning. I was in the truck again, taking suitcases off the stack, and loading them into a baggage cart, to be loaded onto the ship.

Seward Cruise ShipA Cruise Ship Coming into Port in Seward, Alaska, as Seen from the City Campground Waterfront Park

All went well, and I picked up my check at the ILWU hall the following Friday.
I worked this job several weeks that summer. I advanced up in seniority and in jobs. I eventually got to work the conveyor where the suitcases come out of the x-ray and need to be lifted to another conveyor to go on their way. The money was good. I made some new friends. I enjoyed being on the dock and learning some things about cruise ships. Another thing I liked about this job is that I didn’t have to commit to more than two days work at a time. Being a longshore casual was a good seasonal job for me, a full-time RVer.

I found this job as a casual longshoreman loading and unloading luggage from cruise ships because I let it be known I was looking for work. But, a call to any longshore union hall could find out if they need temporary casuals. This would apply to any union trade.


Coleen's comments: My husband, Bob Nilles, wrote this article about his job working as a casual with the longshoreman loading and unloading luggage from cruise ships in Alaska. Since the cruise ships only come into port there during the summer, the work is naturally seasonal. It can be a great gig for a working RVer who wants a well paying summer job in Alaska.

More articles about seasonal employment for RVers and campers.

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