A Single Working Mom, A Collective Working Force

The port town of San Pedro is rich with local history, especially labor history as it relates to the docks. An important new chapter in this city’s local, labor history was recently begun as long-time resident Julie Ann White Brady broke through the proverbial glass ceiling to become the very first female officer elected to one of the most prominent labor locals in the harbor, the eminent Local 13 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). This is significant because in the local’s 79-year history, no woman has ever graced its membership as an elected officer. Though few, including Brady herself, have tried.

Last September, Brady, 54, lost her first attempt at office when she ran against a six-year incumbent for the title of Health Benefits Officer. Losing by an impressive and mere 27 votes out of a total of 2,745 votes cast was not bad for anyone running against an incumbent, regardless of gender. It was her first time running for one of the top four executive offices, even though she had previously been elected to numerous, less prominent roles, most notably Chief Dispatcher, an office which she held for more than four years. Rather than being discouraged to run again, Brady stepped up her campaigning efforts and focused her sights on the vice presidency, an office no other woman had ever attempted to reach.

“When I was on the Membership Committee, I worked very closely with the Vice President,” says Brady. “I would attend a great deal of LRC’s [labor relations dispute meetings] with the VP and in my head I always thought the VP position would be my dream job.” Brady was privately asked not to run for vice president by an officer at the time. She took that as a sign that it was time to challenge the status quo. Her tenacity to fight against the odds of being a woman in an industry dominated by men earned her an overwhelming 1,780 votes to beat out her male counterpart’s 881 votes in an unprecedented local landslide in the bid for the vice presidency this past March. “A huge part of the membership has already put their trust in me and I’m committed to doing the work they direct me to do,” she says.

Brady, a divorced single mother of three, credits her late, ex-father-in-law, Chuck Brady, for mentoring her and inspiring in her the desire to serve the union of which she is so proud. She fondly recalls endless hours during her early union years spent eagerly listening to the elder Brady’s union stories.

Her life on the waterfront began in 1997 as an identified casual worker, after a 20-year career as a former customhouse brokerage agent with just a high school diploma and some college. She was formally registered with Local 13 in 1998 and immediately began serving various committees and volunteering for numerous union causes. Brady quickly navigated through the local’s rank and file as a dedicated union sister, all the while establishing a solid reputation for being a hard worker.

Her favorite hands-on job is that of heavy equipment operator such as Side Pick/Top Handler or Transtainer, which require rigorous Skill III certification, the highest there is and second only to crane operators. Her favorite position within the union is that of dispatcher. “As a dispatcher, you are directly in the hub of everything going on,” says Brady. “The dispatch hall is the heart of the local and that is where I love to be.”

Outgoing Vice President, Bobby Olvera, Jr. commends the membership for electing Brady on her merit. “These are exciting times for our local, and Julie’s win shows how progressive we have become. She is a magnificent asset to this union and has always been valuable in all capacities. She will be a great officer, regardless of her gender, because of her highly qualified skill set and strong sense of unionism.”

Brady, whose children are 20, 18, and 17, has encouraged her family to serve the ILWU with her. She has lived in San Pedro for 22 years, and jokes that raising kids in this city among relatives and friends who also work on the docks means that Brady family gatherings are spent talking “ship” with the kids. Her children grew up with firsthand knowledge of the machinery, the dynamics within the dispatch hall, and the politics of the union. They have all volunteered at countless union events and supported other unions at rallies and strikes.

When not directly serving the union, Brady and her children enjoy walks with their dogs and dining at local restaurants. This working mother admits that she put her hobbies on the back burner for some time during the election, and she looks forward to simple things like riding her bike after work and possibly taking a sewing class.

“I was so proud to take that oath of office in front of my family and the membership,” recalls Brady. She was sworn in as Vice President on Thursday, April 4, during the local’s monthly membership meeting. “It was a very exciting day for me. At the meeting, I was thrilled to greet everyone who congratulated me. It would make me proud to serve this membership and in the coming months, to gain the trust of those members who don’t believe a woman is capable of doing an officer’s job.”

Economists define the ‘glass ceiling’ as the unseen, yet unreachable barrier that keeps women or minorities from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements. While the labor industry is hardly considered corporate America, Julie Brady being elected an officer of one the most powerful labor unions in the country, at the nation’s most vital twin ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach quite certainly is history in the making. spt

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