Turbine components for the nations’ first utility-scale offshore wind farm arrived for assembly in New Bedford this week, an event celebrated by business leaders and government officials as a symbolic step forward for the city’s economy and the nation’s climate goals. But a day later, work ground to a halt as a local union of predominantly Black longshoremen staged a protest and accused the project’s developer, Vineyard Wind, of falling short of its promises to hire a diverse workforce.

Members of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1413 blocked the main entrance to the port facility with an informational picket.

Kevin Rose, the local union’s president, said he is seeking a contract that guarantees full-time jobs to his members, who have been unloading cargo in the port for decades prior to the arrival of the offshore wind industry.

“Look at the license plates around here, different states. They're not local,” Rose said. “They’re all working full time, the ILA is not.”

Twelve ILA members have already been working part-time on the project helping unload the barge that carried turbine components into New Bedford’s busy port on Wednesday. The massive parts, which will form the main shafts of turbines taller than the biggest skyscrapers in Boston, were manufactured in Portugal and transported across the Atlantic Ocean on a 492-foot-long barge, the UHL Felicity.

Rose said local longshoremen deserve a contract guaranteeing full-time work similar to the contracts that other unions on the job site are already working under.

“I can’t wait to do this [protest] until the ship leaves because then I lose my leverage,” said Rose. “All it takes is, if they don't want to strike, give me a contract. Because we have a no strike clause in our contracts, right? Give me something in writing that says, local people are going to be working full-time.”

The UHL Felicity is just the first in a fleet of ships scheduled to carry turbine components into New Bedford for assembly this year. Because of the size restrictions imposed by the hurricane barrier protecting New Bedford’s harbor, the barges capable of squeezing through can only carry enough components for about two turbines per trip. Altogether, the project will require 62 turbines and generate enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes. They will be installed on a stretch of ocean floor about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

Vineyard Wind is working on a tight schedule as it aims to begin delivering this electricity to Massachusetts’ power grid before the end of this year.

A site manager for Vineyard Wind, Brekken Martin, disagreed with workers’ claims about local representation, saying that a majority of workers onsite in New Bedford this week are from southeastern Massachusetts. But he confirmed that assembly work will be paused for at least a day.

“I don't want anybody to get near them with equipment or anything,” Martin said. “These are our neighbors here protesting and we're going to do everything we can to protect their right to protest and come to a peaceful resolution here.”

Even before turbine assembly began onshore in New Bedford this week, longshoremen in New Bedford were raising concerns that they felt squeezed out of the project. Vineyard Wind signed a project labor agreement in 2021 that set specific targets for building a diverse workforce of union members from the region. But because of the vagaries of American labor law, only construction unions could sign onto the agreement. The ILA was left to negotiate its contract separately.

“Part of the agreement is that they're supposed to be hiring local and hiring minorities,” said Rose, who is a third-generation longshoreman from New Bedford. “And they're trying to shut us out. We're part of this community. Most of the people who work for the ILA here live within a couple of blocks of this facility.”

Local 1413 of the ILA has a long history in New Bedford as a source of employment for people of Cape Verdean descent, one of the city’s largest ethnic groups that put down its roots during the days when New Bedford was an international center for the whaling industry.

But Local 1413 is now jostling for work unloading offshore wind vessels alongside larger unions from out of town, some of which are handling tasks like operating cranes that traditionally went to local longshoremen.

Rose said some of those unions, including the International Union of Operating Engineers, which manages the cranes onsite, halted work on Friday in solidarity with the local longshoremen. He said the protest will continue until his union members feel satisfied that their issues have been addressed by Vineyard Wind and GE, the developer’s primary contractor for turbine assembly and installation.

“If they want to come down here and make a deal with us in 10 minutes, I'll sign it,” Rose said. “If they come in 10 days, I'll sign it. It's up to them.”

In a statement released through a spokesperson, Vineyard Wind said, “With over 300 union employees having worked on the project to date, and many more to come, we will continue to find solutions with GE to help support union participation on our projects and remain confident that a compromise can be reached in New Bedford to support the ILA."

Martin, Vineyard Wind’s site manager, said negotiators intend to reach a quick resolution with the longshoremen.

“I can't tell you when it's going to happen but we want the ILA on site,” he said. “And so we're going to make sure that that happens.”

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at bberke@thepublicsradio.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.