Strike threats at West Coast ports

| 7/1/2002

A strike at West Coast ports seems eminent as the contract between more than 10,000 West Coast union longshoremen and the ports expires June 30. Published reports say negotiations are not going well.

The talks between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are focusing on employee benefits and the need for technology and modernization.

At the West Coast ports, union workers rallied to show their solidarity. Rallies were held at ports in Oakland, CA; Los Angeles; Portland, OR; Tacoma and Seattle, WA.

The rally and barbecue at the Port of Oakland was billed as a "massive display of workers' unity" with speakers from all the major transport unions and international labor federations, including ILWU International President Jim Spinosa and Teamsters General President James Hoffa Jr.

"Employers are stonewalling negotiations and demanding major givebacks from union workers trying to provoke a lockout or a strike," read a flyer promoting the rally, sponsored by the ILWU Local 10.

Trucking industry insiders say shippers are frantically trying to get their imports off port docks and exports to port docks due to the potential of a strike.

"Shippers are getting freight out of ports because they're afraid of a strike by port workers," said truckdriver and OOIDA member Doug Fabish, who hauls produce off the West Coast. "Christmas stuff is moving through the ports now. Those of us who count on the hard-running loads in August and September won't be able to count on it this year."

Buddy Deal, a broker on the West Coast, said another broker told him his shippers were frantic to get export shipments to the ports by Friday, June 28.

All this turmoil at the ports is translating into higher rates for the trucking industry. "Rates coming out of California are almost double," Fabish said.

Others in the industry say a shortage of trucks is pushing rates up. "I'm going to $3 a mile for loads to Salt Lake City and still can't getting any trucks," said Deal. "There are less trucks on the road because of all the companies going out of business. Dick Simon turned in more than 500 trucks, then you have your mom-and-pop operations turning in their trucks."

--Rene Tankersley