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Alireza Mahdavi: Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!

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It is 3 p.m., June 27, 2013 and I find myself walking on the sidewalk along Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. Just like any other day in Southern California, the skies are blue, the sun is bright gold and the owners of new BMWs, Mercedes Benzes and Maseratis speed down the highway without a care in the world. Unlike any other day, I find myself among a delegation of community members, clergy, reporters and union representatives in support of Joe Dickson and his co-workers.

We march towards the elegant Newport Beach Balboa Bay Country Club to speak with Alireza Mahdavi before he gives a speech to a group of investors and financiers at a convention. We certainly did not pay $900 to have some alone time with the CEO of American Logistics International; I don’t think any of us have that kind of money to spend on a chicken dinner alone. I know Joe wouldn’t want to pay that kind of money, for as he says, “I barely get paid $900 a week to take care of my family. How am I supposed to do that?”

The only thing we can do is try to talk to Mahdavi at his speech, to let him know that Joe has something to tell him.

Who are Joe Dickson and Alireza Mahdavi? Joe is a truck driver for American Logistics, a trucking company in Carson that operates at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; Mahdavi is his boss, the owner of that company. Joe simply wants to have some time to sit down with his boss to tell him that he and his coworkers have many work safety concerns that need to be addressed, and that the company should respect their petition to join a labor union. They are also calling for a halt to all company retaliation and harassment for pursuing their legal right to union representation.

Joe and his co-workers are finding that Mahdavi is hard to pin down for a chat.

Mahdavi’s hide-and-seek game began in early January of this year, when a delegation of American Logistics drivers delivered a petition publicly declaring their intention to form a union, and sought to partner with the company to find the best process for doing so. There was no reply from Mahdavi. More petitions from drivers were met with more silence from the company’s owner.

Drivers at American Logistics have since filed unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the company violated federal law by interfering with their legal right to organize. The drivers, along with community and clergy leaders, also led a second delegation to American Logistics’ management urging that they address safety concerns that they believe endanger their lives and those of the community at large. Perhaps most damning is a complaint issued by the U.S. government against the company, when a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agreed that American Logistics was “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed by the [National Labor Relations Act].”

Throughout all of this, workers have grown increasingly vocal, frustrated by the company’s silence. Drivers gather every week at the company’s gates to share information and draw attention to the labor dispute. They continue to try to engage in a dialogue with company executives and decision-makers. With community and clergy allies, they have conducted delegations to Mahdavi’s other businesses, in the hope of finding him there.

And so, I march alongside Joe Dickson. The banquet hall is filled with dozens of company executives that paid hundreds to learn about the EB-5 program— a program that Mahdavi uses to raise funds for his business. When the company owner refused to come to the workers, the workers decided they would come to the company owner. They had done this once before as a delegation to a previous EB-5 conference. This time, Joe and his supporters didn’t want to take “no” for an answer. After being rebuffed at the door to the conference, we stood in the hallway and chanted, demanding to see Alireza. Instead of coming out, some executive simply closed the door, trying to drown out Joe Dickson and the community outside.

We were kicked out of the country club, but not before sending a loud message to Mahdavi. He has yet to respond; he has yet to be found. He has remained silent to his workers, the community, the clergy and even the federal government. But he will be located; he will have to respond. After all, the most basic premise of playing hide-and-seek is to be found. So, come out, come out, wherever you are! You can’t hide forever.

(Ernesto Rocha is an organizer with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s Clean & Safe Ports campaign.)

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