Hampton Roads, VA, port drivers want safer chassis, containers

| 6/10/2008

Trucker Paul Yurkovac recently spent six hours shuttling unsafe containers from inspection lines to port maintenance shops – burning precious earning time because of faulty equipment owned by shipping lines but managed by port systems.

“It took me six hours of work to recover a $40 drayage fee,” Yurkovac said.

The day highlighted a growing problem for truckers at many ports: Holes in containers and chassis with bad brakes and tires routinely send drivers from inspection line to maintenance line, all for work on equipment owned by private companies but overseen by port officials.

Yurkovac, an owner-operator who works everyday at the harbor at Hampton Roads, VA, is an OOIDA member and a committee member of the recently formed Owner-Operator Coalition of Virginia.

The Coalition is working to address its members’ chief concern: that the port’s system of relying on professional drivers to move and inspect port chassis and port containers is unsafe, is inefficient, and forces the drivers to work for no pay.

“The drivers are at the lowest end of the labor pool, and they get stuck with whatever nobody else wants to do,” Yurkovac told Land Line. “I think drivers would rather just come here, have the equipment ready, and get the job done and drive away.”

Because most drivers are paid by the mile, time spent getting equipment inspected and fixed isn’t usually paid.

Drivers can spent an hour or more for authorized shop workers to remove previous load decals from containers, and risk being kicked out of the port if they’re caught removing the stickers themselves.

And there are other concerns.

Much of the equipment owned by shipping lines, such as shipping containers and chassis, isn’t safe, Yurkovac said.

“If I was driving a car, I wouldn’t particularly want to ride next to a chassis that’s going down the interstate,” Yurkovac said.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist, has met with the coalition twice to facilitate discussions. Rajkovacz said the coalition is addressing its concerns through the proper channels.

“What these port truckers are engaged in is exactly the sort of action that can address real issues,” Rajkovacz said. “Because of that, it can become a template that is used elsewhere around the country.”

The newly formed coalition is working with an attorney and wants to meet soon with port leaders to address the inefficiencies of truckers managing repairs for chassis and containers.

Although new drivers have been attending each of the fledgling group’s meetings, Yurkovac said the Owner-Operator Coalition of Virginia is still hoping to add to its membership of about 200 port drivers.

Interested drivers can email the organization at info.oocva@yahoo.com or leave a voicemail at 703-621-5063.

“We need to let them know we’re taking a very firm stance on this,” Yurkovac said. “Ethically, it’s wrong. No Virginian should have to do free labor on state-owned property.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer