Types of Longshoreman Jobs

There are approximately 360 commercial sea ports scattered across the shores of the United States that are responsible for handling more than 99% of U.S. cargo by volume every year. These ports serve as essential doorways that provide access to international import and export efforts by way of sea, as well as any recreational marine travel. It would be difficult to accurately state just how important this industry is to the national economy of our country and how valuable each member is to the efficiency of the industry.

The term "longshoreman" refers to a worker involved in any on-site operation on these commercial seaports. Marine cargo transport is a massive industry and, like any professional trade, there are many different elements. In general, a longshoreman is a dockworker who is involved in the loading and unloading of cargo ships that come in and go out of U.S. seaports. Longshoreman is the term used to describe this trade in the United States, but the position has many names worldwide—including wharfie, stevedore, and docker.

Distinction by Status

The primary distinction among longshoreman jobs involves the frequency of their work.

There are two main categories under this subject:

  • Regulars: A longshoreman employed as a permanent, full-time worker on the port. Regulars are given the option of what shifts they want, as well as what ship or yard they prefer to work on. There are many different regular specialties but being a regular provides a great deal of flexibility.
  • Casuals: This term refers to temporary longshoremen. Because of their position, regulars have dispatch priority; any work that is left over after all of the regulars are employed is given to casuals. This surplus work is given to casuals based on a specific worker's position in a rotating line. Because of the uncertainty, casuals never know exactly when and how much they will work on a given week.

Regular longshoremen are registered with a specific union, which is why they are given security and priority when it comes to consistent work. Casuals lack status with a union but are still an integral part of the industry as demand for work is unpredictable and can often spike without any prior notice.

Different On-Site Duties

When work is given on a dock, a gang usually assigns it. Gangs are groups of different dockworkers, each with a different responsibility. The idea is to organize assignments by gang so that they can be completed fully without requiring additional assistance. Gangs operate independently in their ability to complete a job.

Gangs are made up of the following types of longshoremen:

  • Dock Aloft: Also known as a DA, a Dock Aloft is assigned to a specific piece of equipment and is responsible for providing the operator with communication and directions from the ground. The DA acts as both the eyes and the ears of the operator of the machinery, especially in blind spots.
  • Swingman: These workers are responsible for anything that requires hands-on work. This can involve anything from working on the ship to secure cargo to removing pins to release cargo.
  • Bosses: As the name suggests, bosses are the heads of each operation within a particular cargo movement. For example, hatch bosses make sure the cans are removed from the ship in the right order, and dock bosses make sure the trucks go to the right locations.
  • Clerks: These workers are responsible for the administrative portion of the assignment. This means keeping track of the numbers and manifests and ensuring everything is accounted for.
  • Lashers: Working either aboard docked ships or in the yard, lashers are responsible for securing containers and cans with metal bars. Lashing is extremely important on board the ship because, without the metal bars holding them secured, containers could fall into the ocean during transport.

Being a longshoreman means being an equally important part of a long line of communication. Without any given job, the overall efficiency of shipyards would be significantly hindered, and as a result, the U.S. would have a hard time staying at the head of international commerce. 

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