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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Trucker Strike



Port truckers may strike June 28
By Jill Dunn

Truckers at various ports are talking of striking June 28-July 4, though the level of expected participation is uncertain.

John Hassell III, president of the Maritime Association of the Port of Charleston, said port authority police had worked with independent truckers to clarify that they may not interfere with vehicles leaving or entering the port.

Owner-operators have said they want better rates and need to receive a full fuel surcharge. Hassell said he also has heard truckers accuse companies of using drivers who do not have a commercial driver’s license.

How much a strike will hurt the port depends upon how many truckers participate, he says. July is generally a less active month for the port, but holiday-related activity usually begins in August, Hassell said. Talk of a strike “has gotten everybody’s attention,” he said.

One of the flyers being distributed to truckers has been posted on the Industrial Workers of the World website. The anonymous flyer, written in English and Spanish, says truckers in the Northeast instigated the call to action. It asks port and rail truckers to shut down for the week and lists problems such as the diesel price spike and unpaid wait time.

The American Trucking Associations issued a statement recognizing the difficulties of truckers and carriers who do business at the ports, and pointed blame elsewhere. “For decades, foreign-owned Steamship Lines (SSLs) have engaged in harsh business practices and received special antitrust exemptions that have combined to establish an increasingly difficult business environment for motor carriers engaged in moving intermodal freight at our nation s ports.”

ATA says the SSLs bear responsibility for the unsafe chassis used to transport intermodal freight, and sometimes shortchange carriers. “All too often, many months after the freight is delivered, the motor carrier gets paid less than the previously agreed rate,” said ATA.

On June 14, port truckers and local leaders from 18 North American ports talked to union officials at Teamsters headquarters about work conditions and pay that does not compensate for the diesel prices.

Later that week, Teamsters president James Hoffa said his union was not sponsoring a shutdown, but he did release a list of recommendations for steamship lines and carriers to mitigate the problem. That included classifying drivers as employees and allowing them to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

Delph Jean, one of the truckers who attended that June 14 meeting, says truckers from other ports, especially Baltimore, are committed to the strike.

Jean has been one of three spokesman for a recent Oakland, Calif., port strike, which lasted about 10 days. He said he is discouraging Oakland port truckers from striking the week of June 28, but believes about 60 percent of them will shut down, while he expects 95 percent of independent truckers to shut down at other ports, including Charlotte, N.C., and Seattle.

On May 4, the Port of Oakland announced the formation of a committee that included Jean, ocean carriers, brokers and other stakeholders to address trucker complaints concerning compensation and working conditions. He estimates about 40 percent of the strikers received raises and fuel surcharges after that.

Jean says two main issues remain for truckers: rates and collective bargaining. California can exempt owner-operators as a group from federal anti-trust laws to allow them to do collective bargaining, he says.

Owner-operator Sandy Tyson hauls containers to and from the Hampton Roads, Va. ports, but is planning to stay home the week of June 28. She says the word has been spread by e-mail, CB and other truckers about the shutdown.

“If it’s nationwide, it’s much more effective because otherwise freight can be diverted from one side of the country to the other,” Tyson said.

Tyson lost her job after being a leader of a May 6 strike at the port over concerns about compensation, chassis conditions and a public registry of fuel surcharges. Last year, she netted $15,000 when she had two trucks; she now has only one.

Since then, she leased to another carrier and became executive director of a new group, the Tidewater Leased Owner-Operators Association. The group, which has 40 members, is setting up an office in Portsmouth and has non-profit status. Its website is www.tloassoc.com.

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