Independent truckers plan three-day shutdown at the Port of Savannah

| 4/3/2008

OOIDA member Brad Burrell of Rincon, GA, has been trucking on and off for more than 30 years – it’s in his blood. However, Burrell said, he may have to give up trucking and do something else if economic conditions don’t improve soon.

Burrell said as many as 300 owner-operators who deliver in and out of the Port of Savannah in Savannah, GA, parked their rigs on Thursday, April 3, and plan to stay parked on Friday, April 4, and again on Monday, April 7. According to Burrell, who hauls containers in and out of the ports, a protest rally was planned from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Port of Savannah on Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, Burrell said, the protest was working. He said a fellow port driver called him at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday to tell him there were only four container trucks at the port at a time when the port is usually crawling with trucks. While waiting for his wife while she was shopping Thursday morning, he said he watched to see how many container trucks went by – not very many by his count.

“I counted two container trucks pass by me in the time it took my wife in the store, and I’m less than nine miles from the port,” Burrell said. “Normally, in the same time, I would have seen between 25 and 30 trucks go by.”

One of the main reasons Burrell is parking his rig for three days is to protest the fact that brokers are not passing along 100 percent of fuel surcharges to the owner-operators who are actually buying the fuel. He said he heard recently that one terminal manager from one of the carriers said all of her owner-operators get between 65 percent and 75 percent of the fuel surcharge.

“That means they are keeping at least 25 percent of the fuel surcharge, and I could really use that money right now,” he said. “I heard the answer that one broker gave as to why she felt she was entitled to keep part of the surcharge, that there was no regulation against her keeping part of the surcharge. My thinking is that if you are not buying the fuel for my truck, why are you touching the surcharge?”

The manager of a local motor carrier company in Savannah said they pass along between 70 percent and 80 percent of the fuel surcharges they collect to their independent drivers, according to news station WTOC in Savannah, GA.

Burrell said raising public awareness on this issue is the last chance that some owner-operators have to keep their businesses afloat.

“This is the best chance we have. We’ve got to do something,” he said. “Most of these guys are desperate. I am not one to advocate for a strike, but for many of these guys, this is a last desperate attempt to stay in business. They are on the verge of financial disaster.”

Burrell said he has watched his profits steadily decline since November of 2007 when fuel prices started to drastically increase. While he said he did get a 4 percent increase at that time, the following week freight rates dropped.

“I brought home $465 last week, and I ran three good loads,” he said. “Nine months ago, I would have made in the neighborhood of $1,400 for three good loads. I know at least five guys that are in the same position. We just want to know where the fuel surcharge is going.”

The plan right now is for truckers to get back in their rigs on Tuesday, April 8, if they can shut down that long. Burrell said some may not be able to park for that long.

“I’ve heard some drivers say the carrier they are leased to told them if they didn’t take a load that their leases would be terminated or there wouldn’t be any freight for them later,” he said.

OOIDA life member John Taylor of Cross Junction, VA, was on Interstate 95 near Savannah, GA, on Thursday, April 3. He said Georgia Department of Transportation officials, Georgia State Patrol officers and sheriff’s patrol officers were out in full force near the area with their radar guns turned on along a 40- to 50-mile stretch of the interstate.

“I saw a large concentration of officers that seemed to be targeting trucks in the area,” he said.

Taylor said he has heard from many truckers who are upset with fuel prices and the oil companies, but he explains to them that it’s just part of the problem.

“I explain to them that the large brokerage firms are keeping the fuel surcharge and not passing it along to the ones that are purchasing the fuel because it’s not mandatory that they do it,” he said. “When I had four owner-operators leased to me, I always gave them 100 percent of the fuel surcharge, which is what we need.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer