How to Become a Longshoreman

A longshoreman is a worker who loads and unloads cargo onto ships. These workers are also known in the United Kingdom as "dockers," in continental Europe as "stevedores," and more generally as dockworkers. Longshoremen are an integral part of the shipping and receiving industry, working long hours in all weather conditions to move cargo containers. The workers with the most seniority are rewarded for this commitment through high pay, an extensive benefits package, and a flexible schedule. Longshoremen are nearly always employed as part of a labor union, and gaining membership in this union is the crucial step in order to become a longshoreman.


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    Obtain a TWIC card. The TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) is a certification administered in the United States by the Transportation Security Administration. In order to work on a dock, you first have to obtain this certification. To get a TWIC card, schedule an appointment with the TSA and bring all of your identifying documents to the appointment. You will have to fill out a questionnaire and pay a fee, after which you will be approved and receive your card.
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    Determine which labor union employs the longshoremen at your local port. Along the west coast of the U.S., this is likely to be the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union), while the prominent union along the east coast is the ILA (International Longshoreman's Association).
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    Determine the location and hours of the union's hiring hall. Dock work is peculiar in that no longshoreman is required (or even able) to work a fixed schedule. Each day, the amount of labor hours needed based on the dock traffic expected is transmitted to the union's hiring hall. Longshoreman seeking work that day arrive at the hiring hall, and the available work is assigned by seniority.
    • Your career as a longshoreman begins as a "casual worker." Casual workers are those who are not members of the union, and therefore get picked last when work is being assigned. This leads to a very unreliable and erratic work schedule, where weeks can pass between available shifts.
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    Start your search for work by calling the hiring hall each day. If there is a shortage of work available, the hiring hall can advise you not to attempt to work that day, as all available shifts will be taken by union members.
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    Show up to the union hiring hall when there are many shifts available. If there is a prospect of casual labor being assigned on a given day, arrive at the hiring hall at the designated time. You will generally have to wait in a line as work is being assigned, with no guarantee that there will be a shift available for you.
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    Gain enough experience to achieve "identified casual" status. If you remain persistent in seeking casual dock work, you will eventually be recognized by the union as an identified casual and given an ID card. This does not make you a union member, so you will still be behind union members in seniority. However, you are now given preference over non-ID casuals when work is assigned.
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    Apply for union membership. Once you are an identified casual, you can apply for membership in the union. The union will distribute applications when they are seeking to expand their membership, and the process is generally very competitive. You may have to apply several times before being accepted. Once accepted into the union, your schedule will become more reliable, as you are now given preference over casual workers. Union members are full-fledged longshoremen and receive benefits from the union.


  • Dock work is a dangerous trade, so be aware of the safety concerns before pursuing a career as a longshoreman.

Things You'll Need

  • TWIC card

Article Info

Categories: Tradesman Occupations