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Slow burn
Rising diesel prices cause unrest for the weary

By Aaron Ladage
staff writer

Months before Hurricane Katrina’s devastation rained down, a feeling of volatility and unease from skyrocketing fuel prices, and the lack of a mandatory fuel surcharge manifested itself in the form of rumors, shutdowns and protests in the trucking community in the United States and Canada.

Although the rumors have not developed into a nationwide shutdown, some protests numbered in the hundreds of trucks as drivers across the continent united to show their disdain for unfair treatment and prices.

On Aug. 10 in South Florida, a 639-truck convoy, which included tractor-trailers, dump trucks and box trucks, traveled 20 miles - including a section of the Florida Turnpike - to deliver a petition to the Miami City Hall.

The petition had thousands of signatures and demanded that the Florida Legislature approve a fuel surcharge and mandatory 100 percent pass-through for owner-operators, the Miami Herald reported.

“This rally centered around the high fuel charges that the drivers are forced to pay,” Mike Scott, president of Teamsters Local Union 769, toldĀ Land Line.

The Florida protest came the same day President Bush signed the Highway Bill. The House version of the bill contained a mandatory fuel surcharge provision - legislation that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been battling in favor of for many years. But the surcharge was not included in the Senate’s version.

The final version of the Highway Bill, which was decided on by a joint conference committee of House and Senate members, did not include the surcharge provision.

By coincidence, more than 120 log truckers in the state of Washington parked their trucks the same day the Florida truckers convoyed. The log truckers were protesting against the four major timber companies in the area - Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier, Simpson Timber and Sierra Pacific - seeking a larger, more realistic percentage for a fuel surcharge.

“We got some increases, and we got more awareness out there with these timber companies that they can’t take advantage of us anymore,” said Rick Smith, president of the Twin Harbors Division of the Northwest Log Truckers’ Cooperative. “And that’s what we were after.”

Days later, strike rumors became reality for some California truckers, when a group of trucks convoyed through Santa Maria to protest the rising diesel fuel costs on Aug. 19.

While some media outlets reported the number of protesting trucks in the dozens, Sgt. Richard Flores of the Santa Maria Police Department put the number between 12 and 15 rigs. The truckers reportedly were blowing their horns as they drove through the downtown area, and the noise was loud enough to bring several judges out of the courthouse in the middle of legal proceedings.

On Sept. 7, about 50 coal truck drivers parked their rigs along Highway 80 in Hazard, KY, claiming they simply aren’t making enough to cover the skyrocketing cost of fuel.

One of the drivers, Tim Reid, an OOIDA member from Beaver Dam, KY, told WKYT-TV he pays as much as $500 a day for fuel.

Meanwhile, trucks at Forrester Joseph Trucking Co., a coal hauler in the area, were vandalized on Sept. 7. Seven trucks were vandalized, two were shot at, and the oil from three others was completely drained.

Police have not yet determined if there is a link between the vandalism and the strike.

Rising fuel costs hit Canada, too, where at least 500 truckers were parked along the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick during a three-day protest over high fuel costs in early September.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the Canadian Press they sent in extra manpower to deal with the situation, which slowed traffic moving in and out of northern New Brunswick. The Mounties issued $120 tickets to truckers for illegal parking to bust up the strike.

The truckers blocked commercial traffic in the area, but allowed other traffic through. Eric Bijeau, a spokesman for the protesters, told the Canadian Press that as many as 1,000 trucks are involved in the protest, though authorities disputed that number.

aaron_ladage@landlinemag.com

Aug/Sept Digital Edition