SPECIAL REPORT: Trucker strike continues

| 7/1/2004

Strikes continued at some of the nation’s ports July 1, but cooled some in other locations as independent truckers continued their efforts to bring attention to rising fuel costs, anti-union laws, unfair wages and inadequate surcharges to offset the cost of fuel.

Activity was reported June 30 at the Port of Savannah, where about a dozen people stood outside the port’s entrance in protest. Truck traffic was down about 15 percent from last Monday, port officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that most of the independent truckers who boycotted the Port of New Orleans on June 28 returned to work July 1.

Nevertheless, some stories reported more possible protests at ports in New Jersey, South Carolina and other states at least through the July Fourth weekend. Other ports involved are in Boston, New Orleans, Houston and Miami.

For example, up to 100 drivers gathered outside the Port of Miami-Dade, and another protest took place at Port Everglades June 30

Truckers told local news outlets that a major issue there is that cargo-liability insurance is being taken out of the drivers’ paychecks.

Napoleon Founte, who works for Quick Drayage, told The Miami Herald, “There are long lines at the Port of Miami, and it takes us about three to four hours to get in and out with our cargo, and we only get $50 per trip.”

Meanwhile, sources told Land Line there is speculation that some carriers are offering incentives to get a few drivers to work. But, overall more truckers stopped operating June 30 than on June 29.

For example, the port of Charleston, SC, reported slower-than-normal traffic. About 50 demonstrators carried placards and signs outside port terminals there.

OOIDA’s view

A major problem is that owner-operators are considered independent businesspeople and are forbidden by federal price-fixing laws from negotiating or banding together to talk with employers.

"The only bargaining leverage that these guys have is to withhold services or to threaten to withhold services," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Talk about a strike has been rumored for more than two months. This latest round of activity stems from protests that began in early May in Los Angeles and spread to ports in Hampton Roads, VA, and Oakland, CA.

Meanwhile, OOIDA is using 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 drivers’ 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," Spencer 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."

In a related development, a strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is likely, according to July 1 news reports. However, the issue at those two ports involves representatives of 16 shipping companies and their clerical workers who must agree to a new contract.