SPECIAL REPORT: Truckers strike at several ports; action likely to last through holiday weekend

| 6/29/2004

Independent truckers walked off the job at several U.S. ports June 28 in a protest expected to last through the July Fourth holiday weekend, according to Land Line sources and various local news reports.

Owner-operators struck ports in New Jersey, California, South Carolina and Louisiana to protest rising fuel costs, anti-union laws, wage issues and insufficient fuel surcharges.

A spokesman for Pacer International Inc. told Bloomberg News they were preparing for strikes in California during the weekend.

About 200 independent truckers demonstrated at Port Newark, one of the nation's busiest container ports, said Tiffany Townsend, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"We're certainly open for business, but obviously volume is down," she said.

Other ports affected included those in New Orleans, Boston and Charleston, S.C.

The Post and Courier serving South Carolina reported that about 70 truckers had gathered among the State Ports Authority's three container terminals and the CSX intermodal train yard in North Charleston, SC.

The paper reported that some local maritime observers commented on the noticeable absence of container trucks on area roads and around terminal gates. Most cargo at the Port of Charleston moves by truck, prompting one picketer to display a sign that read: "If you got it, a truck brought it."

Meanwhile, demonstrations scheduled to last all week are under way at several U.S. ports, including New Orleans, Savannah, Long Beach, CA, and New York. The demonstrations come at the peak of the shipping season as retailers begin stocking up on merchandise for the Christmas season.

According to the Post and Courier, the striking truckers said they could not afford to take the day off but felt they had to take a stand against the shipping lines and trucking companies who hire them.

The main issue is fuel surcharges, which trucking companies charge shipping lines to compensate for higher fuel prices. However, the truckers say the trucking companies they work for don't share all the proceeds of those charges.

OOIDA's response

OOIDA has consistently used its lobbying muscle to push for meaningful surcharge legislation. The association believes that with today's high fuel prices, every shipper should be paying a fuel surcharge adequate to cover costs.

"For any middleman to pocket all or part of the surcharge is a fraud on the shipper and truck owner that should be punishable by law," Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said.

OOIDA has asked lawmakers in Washington, DC, to pass fuel surcharge legislation that will provide a permanent fix to this problem. While some legislators may still be hesitant to offer 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," Spencer said. "Port drivers have been among the most abused in years. Steamship lines and railroads have taken full advantage of their bargaining position to beat these guys down bad. It's not surprising they are angry. And, it's shameful the only way their legitimate concerns will be addressed is when they threaten drastic action."

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached via e-mail at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.