SPECIAL REPORT: Strike update - Deal thwarted in California; protests begin in Virginia

| 5/6/2004

A tentative agreement brokered by Port of Oakland officials to get independent truckers back to work hit a snag this week when about 150 drivers refused to return to their rigs, the Alameda Times Star reported.

In the meantime, truckers began taking action in Virginia to protest high diesel prices and clogged port areas, according to news reports.

In California, truckers said the agreement to meet four times a year with a special committee did not meet their demands because it did not guarantee rate hikes.

"It was a good solution for the long term, but in the short term, the drivers want what they have been asking for," Ruben Lopez, one of three drivers who negotiated with the port, told the Alameda newspaper. "For now there is no money. They thought they would give us a little candy but we will not leave until we get what we want."

What the truckers want are increases in the fees paid to them each time they haul a container to or from the port. Drivers have complained throughout their four-day protest that rates have not risen to match the increased costs of operating the rigs, which they own.

Meanwhile, Union Pacific imposed an embargo on Oakland, refusing to accept cargo destined for the port. Moreover, several shipping companies are beginning to feel the effects of the strike as containers are being stacked in terminals.

The problem is magnified in Oakland because truck drivers at other ports along the West Coast continue to work. As a result, shippers could begin to send cargo elsewhere to avoid the slowdown.

Protest spreads to Virginia port

In the meantime, hundreds of independent truckers parked their rigs on side streets or stayed home May 6 as they began a two-day boycott of the Hampton Roads port in Virginia to protest high fuel prices, low pay and delays at terminals.

"It's a shutdown. We want attention," Sandy Tyson, who has hauled cargo at the port for 14 years, told theHampton Roads Daily Press. "The truckers here do not have a voice. We do not have someone to represent us. We have to stand together."

About 200 truckers had gathered to protest outside the Portsmouth terminal by noon, said Jim Stewart, a port division representative for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The union is trying to organize independent port truckers nationwide.

Tyson said that the truckers were losing money by boycotting the port, but that they're losing money anyway.

"It's a slow death," she said. "We can't afford to shut down, but we can't afford to continue to run, either."

Tyson said she earned $76,000 last year but once she deducted the costs of running her business, she was left with $15,000.

"I have no medical, I have no savings, I have no retirement, I have no dental," she said. "I'm at the point if something can't be done ... I'm ready to sell my truck. I can't do it anymore."