SPECIAL REPORT: Ports, businesses face disruptions during protest

| 5/1/2006

Thousands took to the streets on Monday, May 1, to protest proposed legislation calling for tightened enforcement on illegal immigrants. While protesters gathered in Chicago, Denver, New York, Florida and other cities, it was an unusually calm day at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA.

A little too calm.

Theresa Adams Lopez, spokeswoman for the port complex, told "Land Line Now" that, on a typical day, the two ports see about 30,000 truck trips in an out of the ports. On May 1, however, Adams Lopez said there was virtually no truck activity around the ports.

Though she didn't know exactly how many truckers worked the ports, Adams Lopez said that the 30,000 trips included multiple trips by the same drivers. Most of the drivers, she said, are Hispanic.

In spite of the absence of trucks, Adams Lopez said everything else was going smoothly at the ports. Longshoremen were still loading and unloading cargo from ships, and rail shipments - which account for about 30 percent of the cargo at the ports - remained unaffected.

"We were anticipating (the walkout)," she said. "We had plans in place. We have a port police force dedicated to the Port of Los Angeles and they put together a comprehensive action plan with the Los Angeles Police Department in case of disturbances at the terminals."

As for how much the walk out - which was only scheduled for one day - would cost the ports, Adams Lopez said on May 1 that it was too soon to tell.

During the lockout of the ports that occurred in 2002 as a result of a dispute between the longshoremen and the terminal operators, the Los Angeles/Long Beach complex lost an estimated $1 million per day.

However, Adams Lopez said that number was with the entire port shut down, so the cost from the driver walkout is expected to be significantly less, provided it only lasts one day.

A group calling itself the Los Angeles Troqueros Collective called for port truckers to strike on May 1, though that strike was only to last for one day, according to a news release from the group. Another group called the March 25 Coalition called for a similar strike to protest immigration legislation and was asking for the support of truckers nationwide.

It is unknown if the truck driver walkout in Los Angeles and Long Beach is related to either group.

Meanwhile, there were some reports of truckers not showing up at the Port of Houston, but calls to the port were not returned. Maersk-Sealand, one of the port's biggest terminal operators, reportedly closed early on Monday because of slower than usual traffic.

Other ports around the country reported business as usual. Spokespeople at the ports of Miami, FL, and Galveston, TX, told "Land Line Now" that their trucks were operating normally and they had seen no decrease in activity as a result of the protests.

A spokesman for the Port of Seattle-Tacoma, WA, also reported no problems in that location.

Don Hamm, President of Port Newark Container Terminal Inc., told Land Line that the morning started off slow, but by afternoon port traffic in New Jersey was bustling.

"Monday mornings have always been slow around here," he said.

Calls to terminal operators in New York were not returned.

But ports were not the only businesses affected by the protests. CNN reported that Tyson Foods Inc. closed operations in 9 of its 100 plants because of a lack of workers.

Cargill Inc., the second largest meat processor in the U.S., closed beef and pork plants in Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Nebraska and Colorado.

CNN also reported that the No. 3 meat processor, Swift & Co., closed four out of five beef plants and two out of three pork plants.

Perdue Farms also closed eight of its 14 processing plants on Monday, according to CNN.

- By Terry Scruton, senior writer
Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.