SPECIAL REPORT: Truckers protest at Oakland port

| 5/4/2004

More than 100 independent truckers gathered in front of the Port of Oakland’s terminals April 30 to protest rising fuel prices and shrinking paychecks, and vowed to return until their demands are met, the Contra Costa Timesreported.

The demonstration, part of a grassroots campaign with similar rallies in Los Angeles and Lathrop in San Joaquin County, slowed traffic to the nation’s fourth-busiest port to a trickle, the paper reported.

Warned about the demonstrations in advance, APL, a shipping company, prepared by asking its customers to pick up and drop off their loads by April 29.

"As far as operations are concerned, they're not affected at all," said Scott Dailey, director of corporate communications for APL.

However, the situation could shift this week.

Starting May 3, Union Pacific, which operates the nation’s largest railroad, will stop accepting cargo bound for Oakland and Los Angeles so containers do not pile up and bottleneck the railroad’s operations, said John Bromley, a spokesman for Union Pacific. Union Pacific will continue the embargo until the protests end or some resolution is reached.

"We're pretty helpless in this situation," Bromley said.

The truckers stopped working at Union Pacific’s Lathrop facility last week. About 30 percent of the normal work is getting done there, Bromley said.

Dimas Encarncion hauled a truckload of cargo from Oakland to Los Angeles this week, a 16-hour round trip for which he was paid $800. But of that $800, Encarncion estimates he kept only about $300. The rest went to fuel – about $300, double its usual cost – as well as registration, cargo insurance, truck maintenance and other expenses that have also risen in recent years, the paper reported.

At the same time, shipping lines have cut the rates they pay him and other truckers, shrinking their profits further, he and other truckers said.

"I have to work more to cover all my payments," the San Leandro, CA, father of two said.

Volatile fuel prices have plagued truckers for over three decades. Nationally diesel fuel prices reached an all time high triggering a recession in trucking in March of 2000. Fuel prices set a new all time high nationally in 2003. Fuel prices in California are currently at their highest ever.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is urging lawmakers in Washington, DC, to pass fuel surcharge legislation that will provide a permanent fix to this problem. While some lawmakers may still be hesitant to recognize this situation as something that needs a legislative fix, OOIDA says, the choice to ignore high fuel prices that bankrupt truckers comes with perils for more than just small-business truckers.

"The entire economic recovery for the nation may well be set back or stalled," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA.

Chuck Mack, the port division director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said it planned to submit a proposal to the Port of Oakland next week to encourage shipping companies to pay the truckers an additional surcharge to cover the rising fuel costs.