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How Much Does a Longshoreman Make?

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Longshore workers, or longshoremen, are the workers who move incoming cargo between the boats and the shore at ports. Although the physical demands of the job mean that most longshore workers are men, increased automation has resulted in a corresponding increase in women who work the docks. Working mothers may find this a particularly difficult field because of the erratic schedule and frequent overtime required, but if you have a strong family support system to help with child care, this can be a lucrative job.

Job Description

In any location where goods are moved from ship to shore, longshore workers are the workers who ensure that the containers get where they should go safely. Longshore workers operate cranes and forklifts to move large containers from ships to shore. They may lash cargo containers together for transport or even push or haul some loads manually. Some workers are also clerks, responsible for checking and accounting for cargo. Because the docks operate day and night, longshore workers typically work erratic hours in all types of weather conditions. Overtime is common, as are days or weeks without work depending on where you are in the pecking order. Longshore work is physically demanding and can be dangerous due to the large machinery used to move cargo.

Education Requirements

Longshore workers typically receive assignments based on seniority and experience, which means that education is not a factor for most positions. The exception to this is if the worker holds a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC card. This credential requires a federal background check and gives longshore workers access to the secure areas of cargo ships and docks. Many companies that hire longshore workers require their employees to have a TWIC card to work. Experience working in a warehouse or operating a forklift or other heavy machinery is also helpful for entry-level longshore employment.


As a whole, dock workers remain an essential part of the shipping industry, even with increased automation. The amount of cargo that comes into the United States on ships has increased significantly since 1980, and the most-efficient way to move these large amounts of cargo from ship to shore is still large machines that are operated by humans. Because most experienced and full-time workers are members of the local union, their wages and benefits have remained stable or increased with time. Things can be a bit shakier for casual, or non-union workers, who get leftover assignments that are not filled by union workers. Longshoremen typically live near the port where they work, enabling them to get from home to port quickly. This proximity is essential in an industry in which long hours and overtime are common.

Years of Experience

Entry-level longshoremen are known as “casuals,” and they work shifts not taken by more experienced union members. Because of this, pay and work for casuals can vary widely. Longshoremen earn an average of about $24 an hour, although they may not work full-time. Many casual workers stay on and work for a decade or more to get promoted to a Class B, which includes union membership. Class B workers continue to gain experience and seniority to get promoted to Class A, which represents the most senior longshore workers. As you can see, salaries vary widely based on seniority and experience.

  • Entry-Level: $53,000 average
  • 10–20 Years’ Experience: $81,000
  • 20+ Years’ Experience: $83,000

Job Growth Trend

Because of the seniority-based system, it can take a decade or more of casual work for an employee to become a Class B or A union member. Although union admission used to be based on, “who you know,” it’s now based on a lottery system. This means that putting in your time and gaining experience can be an effective way to become a union longshore worker and receive the health benefits and higher salary. Of course, the work is still physically demanding and dangerous, but if you have the ability to work in any conditions and experience in operating heavy machinery, you might do well in this field.


Stacy Zogheib's writing has been published in various online publications. She is a teacher and developmental specialist with experience teaching first grade, special education and working with children ages 0 to 3. She has a Bachelor of Arts in elementary and special education from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University.

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