This work offers surprising pay and job security, but do the risks outweigh the reward?


As the growth of the U.S. economy continues to rely on global trade, the workers needed to meet that demand can expect a bright employment future. But that opportunity comes with some risks.

The job of the longshoreman is experiencing growth in opportunity and in wages, according to U.S. labor data. The longshoreman, the worker needed to load and unload cargo on ships at ports from California to Texas to New York and all across the country, continues to be in high demand.

It’s hard work, requiring lifting, operating machinery, and performing the job regardless of weather conditions. Longshoremen also can expect to work night shifts, weekends, and even holidays to meet the hectic demands of the steady stream of cargo ships that deliver goods for consumers and businesses. Nearly all goods in overseas trade (99 percent) either enter or leave the U.S. through one of the more than 3,700 marine terminals and 1,400 inter-modal connections across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The difficult job does offer its rewards. Longshoremen can earn a comfortable income if they can tolerate the demands of the job. With a salary range of nearly $40,000 a year for the bottom 10 percent and more than $134,000 for the top 10 percent, a longshoreman can expect to earn more than a livable wage. The U.S. Department of Labor also projects more opportunities for those seeking longshoreman work, with the number of material movers and hand laborers that include longshoremen expected to grow to 4.2 million by 2026. There were 3.9 million such workers in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The job is attractive to many because it doesn’t require a college degree and it’s typically open to anyone 18 years of age and older. Employers, however, do require a valid driver’s license and often expect experience operating and repairing heavy equipment. Those interested in longshoremen jobs also should be selective about who they choose to work for because some non-union employers are not as likely to monitor and maintain safe working environments.

There are risks on the job for longshoremen. There is heavy lifting, a potentially dangerous work environment at ports, and the possibility of exposure to hazardous materials. One accident could limit, or even end, the career of a longshoreman, depending on the severity. But some longshoremen overlook these dangers in pursuit of the promise of higher pay than they would earn at other jobs. There also are unions established to protect the rights of workers, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the International Longshoremen’s Association.

That’s important because workers in marine terminals and port operations have a  higher fatality, injury, and illness rate than other workers in the U.S., according to the CDC. These workers experienced a fatal injury rate five times higher than that of the U.S. workforce overall from 2011 to 2017, and double the injury rate of the overall workforce during the same period, according to the CDC.

There is an opportunity as a longshoreman, but there are also risks to consider. Don’t ignore the dangers in pursuit of the dollars.


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