Los Angeles Labor Leader David Arian Dies at Seventy-Two
Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner and widely respected community and International Longshore and Warehouse Union leader David Arian died on Wednesday after a battle with thyroid cancer. He was 72.
A prominent figure in the Los Angeles Harbor community, Arian joined the Harbor Commission in 2010 after serving decades in various leadership positions within the labor movement. During his tenure on the Board, the Port of Los Angeles broke all-time cargo volume records while reducing air emissions, two goals on which Arian was particularly focused.
“From the docks to the board room, his humor, his intelligence, and his commitment to justice built the most successful port in the Americas while doing right for the workers and the community that are the lifeblood of the harbor community,” said Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. “Our city and our world are better places because of David Arian's extraordinary career and because of his deep humanity. I will miss his friendship and his steady hand. He's probably organizing workers in heaven right now.”
“Our waterfront community has lost a friend, a fighter, a mentor, a labor leader and a legend,” said Los Angeles 15th District City Councilman, Joe Buscaino. “Dave Arian has given so much to our community, and his contributions will never be forgotten. May he continue to live in our hearts and may his memory be a blessing.”
“Dave brought incredible passion, perspective and authenticity to his commission work,” said Jaime Lee, president of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. “He was greatly respected by his Board colleagues, Port staff and the entire Harbor community. His leadership is irreplaceable, and we are devastated by his loss.”
“Dave’s contributions to the Port, the maritime industry, the community, the environment and the working men and women of the waterfront are beyond measure,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director, Gene Seroka. “He brought genuine care and commitment to the community in all his work. He was a fighter for social and economic justice his entire life and a gracious fighter in his battle with cancer. We will miss him, his expertise, his sense of humor and selfless dedication to making the Port work for the betterment of all.”
Born December 4, 1946 Arian was 18 years old when he took a job at the Wilmington waterfront in 1965. He often joked that at just 130 pounds, union supervisors weren’t sure he’d be able to do the physically demanding work of a longshoreman. But like many aspects of his life, Arian proved his skeptics wrong. That first day unloading bananas into boxcars was just the first of many that he would spend working, organizing and leading union workers and causes important to the workers and the San Pedro Bay community.
As a member of the International Longshoreman & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13, Arian held many leadership positions over the years, including three terms as local president. In 1991, he was elected international president of the ILWU at the age of 44. Arian eventually returned to the docks at the Port of Los Angeles and retired in 2009. Within a year, he was appointed to the Los Angeles Harbor Commission by then-Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, and reappointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013.
Concern and support for the community, local workers and residents were woven into everything Arian did. A tireless community activist from the start, Arian and his family helped found the San Pedro Community Action Center in 1966. Over the years, he was also an active supporter of many local service organizations, including the Toberman Neighborhood Center, Harbor Interfaith Services and the San Pedro Boys & Girls Club, the latter where he played as a youth.
Arian founded the Harry Bridges Institute, an organization dedicated to educating younger workers about the labor movement’s rich history and community organizing. He had served as its president since its founding in 1993. Arian also captured the spirit of the Institute in his book “The Right to Get in the Fight,” which focused on the ILWU, its philosophies and culture that have kept it alive and relevant over the decades.
His involvement in non-labor-related port policy issues began even before his appointment to the Harbor Commission. In 2006, Arian was named to the joint Port of Los Angeles-Port of Long Beach advisory board for the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan, which set the stage for the ports to make unprecedented strides in improving air quality in the San Pedro Bay. Arian also served on the governing board of the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) Joint Power Authority.
A long-time resident of the Harbor area, Arian grew up on 8th Street in San Pedro and attended Cabrillo Elementary, Dana Junior High School and San Pedro High School. He is survived by his two children and five grandchildren: son Sean and son-in-law Councilmember Mike Bonin; daughter Justine and son-in-law Ethan Edwards; and grandchildren Jadyn Rose, Destan, Jacob, Aneka and Keira.