As labor talks resume, will longshoremen join drivers in port strike?

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A port driver strike at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation’s largest combined port on the Left Coast – would be bolstered if longshoremen joined the fight.

Drayage drivers, supported by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have had picket lines at specific companies multiple times in the last two years, including headline-making protests last month.

About 120 truck drivers walked off the job July 7 to protest the classification of drivers as independent contractors. The drivers work for Green Fleet, Total Transportation Services Inc., and Pacific 9 Transportation – three motor carriers who move major freight quantities for Walmart, Target and other retail giants. The strike was the fourth such work stoppage in the past year, and reflected building tension between the drivers and the trucking companies.

The protests are targeting trucking companies that use owner-operators who aren’t offered the same pay and benefits as employee truck drivers though many drive company trucks and are obligated to employee-like conditions. The strike has been on hiatus since mid-July, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti helped broker a cooling-off period for the two sides.

Despite the cooling-off period, Barb Maynard of the Teamsters-backed Justice for Port Drivers organization, told Bloomberg News port drivers were “really itching to go back out on strike.”

As major retailers prepare for the holiday shipping season, speculation on whether longshoremen will join truck drivers on the picket line has caused concern.

Phillip Sanfield, spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, told Land Line Wednesday “there is no indication whatsoever that longshoremen will join the drivers.”

Warehouse and dock workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union briefly joined the July 7 picket line, but went back to work after an arbitrator determined the strike violated contract terms.

Sanfield said port truck traffic has been routine for several weeks and terminal operations appeared to be running normal again Wednesday as negotiators from multiple parties discussed the labor situation.

“Obviously, any kind of work slowdown or shutdown would have a major impact on freight coming into the nation’s busiest port,” Sanfield said. “But all indications are the talks are moving forward and there has been no indication the longshore workers plan to do anything other than continue working.”

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