SPECIAL REPORT: New Orleans truckers achieving national attention

| 4/24/2003

Port of New Orleans officials are reporting a 50 percent cargo volume drop as a strike by independent truckers continues at the port's two container entry locations. They earlier reported a 40 percent drop.

Container traffic through the port, which normally runs at about 1,000 boxes per week, was off by 50 percent April 23, port Executive Director Gary LaGrange said, as reported by the Times-Picayune. A week ago, LaGrange said traffic had fallen between 25 percent and 40 percent because of the strike.

"A courageous group of truckers have decided to roll up their sleeves and shout, 'I'm fed up, and I'm not going to take it anymore'," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. "This isn't an isolated issue  - truckers serving ports in Savannah, Los Angeles, Oakland and all over the country are having a really tough time surviving, and they deserve consideration of their efforts from all other truckers."

The striking New Orleans truckdrivers work as contractors for about 20 local trucking firms that provide dispatching services and act as middlemen between drivers and shipping companies.

Their backs are up against the economic wall, Spencer says, "having had to absorb steadily rising costs of buying and maintaining their rigs, purchasing fuel and all other costs associated with maintaining a small business while their revenues have been steadily eroded the past two decades."

"Loads destined for New Orleans will increase in value because of this situation - however, if carriers, shippers and receivers don't want to pay New Orleans truckers, the cargo rightly should sit right where it is," Spencer added.

Sorting out rumors

Meanwhile, rumors have surfaced concerning personal property damage, rock throwingand tire cutting said to affect truckers who opt to do business as usual. New Orleans Harbor Police told Land Line there had been no incidents.

Port Authority Communications Manager Paul Dauphin said, "We have been getting people spreading rumors that trucks have been damaged or that rocks have been thrown. We have police on duty 24hoursaday at the two ports. There are a lot of eyes out there, and nothing has happened."

However, sources told Land Line the truckers know each other and where they park, so it's possible some damage is done at night away from port areas. Most of the truckers are short-haul drivers who carry containers and other port cargo between local wharves, warehouses and railroad yards.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Southern, one of six major railroads serving the city, has rerouted several hundred containers that normally pass through New Orleans each week because the company can't find truckers to move the cargo through the city, KCS Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Gerald Davies said, theTimes-Picayune reported.

"Drivers now headed for the Port of New Orleans may not know anything about this situation," OOIDA's Spencer said. "It's obviously in the interest of some in New Orleans to downplay the possible effects of the strike. However, I would ask trucking companies to get up to speed on this situation and inform their drivers headed for New Orleans - but I fear there are darned few companies willing to tell drivers ahead of time they may be steering into a hot zone

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

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