February 24, 2022

By Betti Halsell

Staff Writer


Standing at the doorstep of social and labor equity is President of the San Francisco Port commission, Willie Adams and President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commission, Steve Neal. In an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel, they shared the history of their institutions and how it continues to influence the future; two of the largest ports in California are being led by African American men.

Organized Labor has a rich history that inspired social change across the nation. Labor unions inspired the minds of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who mirrored a lot of his strategy for the civil rights movement after organized labor unions such as the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU).

He recognized the unity and significance of standing together to push the agenda of social equity.

King had a very strong relationship with unions, which led to the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other civil and labor collaborations.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was invited to speak at Local 10 of the ILWU on September 21, 1967.


It was one of his last speeches. King’s connection with the labor movement dates to 1955, igniting a deep relation to organized labor for the last 13 years of his life.

Following those footsteps for change, the President of the San Francisco Port Commission Adams was nominated to the Port Commission by former Mayor of San Francisco Edwin M. Lee in July 2012, taking on the role of those who campaigned for reform.



Adams formerly served as vice president (2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019). He also serves as the President of the ILWU.


In 2018, Adams was also elected to lead the ILWU as president. His deep connection with the ILWU began in 1978 in Tacoma, Washington.


He labored as a longshoreman for 24 years on those ports.


In 1998, his colleagues elected him to the local union Executive Board.


Adams was then appointed to the organization’s international Executive Board.


Additionally, he was selected to be among the three trustees responsible for the ILWU’s finances.

Adams represented the ILWU in Spain, Cuba, Australia, and South Africa. Adams' term expires in May 2022.




The president of the ILWU spoke about the importance of mindset of unity within his role, by stating, “when you talk about the economy, the 29 West Coast ports, you’re talking about trillions of dollars.


It's the life blood of economy—it’s the artery.” Adams continued, “We handle that cargo, and you see the backup--whether it's in China, Singapore, that shipping touches every American in this country and they are affected by what comes in and out of those ships.”


The ILWU are unified under one mission, “to achieve a better life for themselves and their families.”



The origins of the institution started along the Pacific Coast, stemming from the work of loading and unloading ship’s cargoes.


Neal is the president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commission; he oversees the creation of policies for the Port of Long Beach and directs the department's staff.

After a term as vice president, Neal was appointed to the position by his colleagues on the five-member Board in July 2021.

From 2010 to 2014, Mr. Neal sat in the Long Beach City Council as a delegate for North Long Beach.



He is the head pastor of LIFE Gospel Ministries and has been a community leader for several years. Neal is the co-founder of the Economic Policy Impact Center, a foundation dedicated to widening economic opportunity for working Americans.


Additionally, he has worked in conjunction with the Long Beach Collective Association, Long Beach Transit, and the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network.


The Port's capital development plan has pledged to invest $1.6 billion over the next 10 years, to elevate Port facilities, preserve the environment, increase revenue, and promote industrial morality.



Neal will be directing focus to the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility, the Long Beach Container Terminal at Middle Harbor, and other renovations intended to improve cargo flow and reduce congestion.

The president of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commission has been working on integrating opportunities into the academic settings to inspire youth, exposing them to a new career venture.


Neal shared his experience by stating, “I talk about policy but my policy and ideology stems from of course my labor background-- thirty years in the labor movement and the community.





One of the ways in my role that we can influence policy, particularly opportunity for African Americans-- we supplement a program in Long Beach Unified School District.”


He continued, “for four years now, it's an academy of global logistics, exposing that that population which is Latino and African-American to the opportunities at the Port, we want to be able to attract local talent.”


As a Compton Native, Mr. Neal promotes the port industry on national and international trade missions. He contributes to major port-related board decisions, in addition to supporting numerous Commission sub-committees.




The Port of Long Beach is the United States “leading pacific commercial gateway,” this dock is known for their innovation, safety, and environmental responsibility.




Known for its quality of customer service and operational efficiency, the Porth of Long Beach was selected as “The Best West Coast Seaport in North America,” by industry leaders in 2021.




The port of Los Angeles is the "second busiest container seaport in the United States," handling over $200 billion in annual trade and providing 2.6 million trade-related roles throughout the country, with over 575,000 jobs in Southern California.





Willie Adams, resident of the San Francisco Port commission and Steve Neal, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, are standing on the verge of social and labor equity.


Their leadership continues to influence the future, as African American men, they are guiding of largest docks in California into the future of transportation.

Category: News