SPECIAL REPORT: Port protests planned throughout East Coast and Louisiana

| 5/7/2004

It started in California – it spread to Virginia, and it now appears truckers across the nation will protest soaring diesel fuel prices, inadequate fuel surcharge share, dock delays, chassis repair requirements and low pay.

Virginia port truckers, frustrated by fuel costs, terminal delays and chassis repair issues, agreed May 7 to return to work May 10 after protesting two days – but similar protests will begin next week at ports in New York, Charleston, NC, Baltimore and Louisiana, truckers and their representatives told Land Line.

"The truckers want to see chassis pre-tripped and ready to go," said Jim Stewart, a port division representative for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

"The California shutdown inspired the Virginia drivers to get their act together. We're working with the local police and port unions to help. It's great to see the `little man' fight back. They're doing it through legal means, such as protesting."

OOIDA member and 19-year professional Jerry Dodson, Portsmouth, VA, said Virginia’s independent drivers are forming their own group.

"We agreed to go back to work Monday," he said, "but if there's no satisfaction, we'll go out again.

"The Teamster rep (Stewart) is helping us deal with the port and the unions. Our grievances are basically the same as the California drivers. We want pre-tripped chassis, a reduction in port down time and a much greater chunk of the fuel surcharge - we currently receive only 5 percent of the surcharge," Dodson told Land Line.

Stewart said he and independent truckers plan to organize various chassis events to show the public and press what happens when bearings break.

"There's no reason why the (owners) can't check the bearings at least once a year. When you neglect that, you can end up killing someone."

Stewart also said a public registry showing how much the shipping lines pay in fuel surcharges to the trucking companies is needed. In addition, he said much of the Virginia truckers’ frustration stems from a Tidewater carrier association, which often gets "air" and press time and presumes to speak on behalf of drivers.

"The drivers feel the motor carriers are worse than the shipping lines because the carriers are always taking money from the driver and they lie about the percentages they make," Stewart said.

The situation in California

Meanwhile, a tentative agreement brokered by Port of Oakland officials to get independent truckers back to work hit a snag May 6 when about 150 drivers refused to return to their rigs, the Alameda Times Star reported.

In California, 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.

Virginia protests

As protests began in Virginia, hundreds of independent truckers parked their rigs on side streets or stayed home to boycott the Hampton Roads port.

"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."

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."

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.