With freight slowing and tensions mounting, port strike expands

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Tuesday, November 18, 2014

With holiday freight movement slowing and tensions rising surrounding labor issues at the West Coast’s largest port, a protest and strike by truck drivers at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have expanded.
 
According to the Justice for LA/Long Beach Port Drivers organization, truck drivers from three additional port trucking companies have joined an ongoing labor strike to protest the improper classification of independent contractors. Goods movement has been slow for weeks, though different parties have pointed fingers at striking drivers and dock workers, inefficient chassis and truck processes and larger freight ships.
 
Port of Los Angeles Spokesman Phillip Sanfield said freight is moving slowly at the port for a variety of reasons.
 
“Cargo is moving here, but it’s slower compared to normal periods,” Sanfield said. “We continue to have congestion issues here at the Port, but they are not related to the labor situation. Those protests have had minimal impact on port operations.”
 
Barb Maynard, a spokeswoman with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said a growing number of port truck drivers who are striking and protesting at trucking terminals near the twin ports are slowing freight movement.
 
To suggest otherwise, she said, is merely spin.
 
“It’s a PR ploy,” Maynard told Land Line of the port’s claim. “When a terminal is turning away trucks and/or picket lines are going up – that means that cargo is not getting moved off the docks.”
 
On Monday, truck drivers from QTS Inc., LACA Express and WinWin Logistics Inc. joined drivers who had previously walked off the job at Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation. Maynard said picket lines have caused marine terminals to turn away trucks from QTS, LACA Express and WinWin Logistics.
 
The strike expanded early Tuesday morning as protestors were joined by truck drivers at Pacer Cartage and Harbor Rail Transport. The two companies move intermodal rail freight from warehouses and distribution centers throughout the country.
 
The protesting drivers planned to follow trucks Tuesday from Pacer and HRT to customer locations and picket the trucks while they are working, a news release from the Teamsters-backed Justice for Port Drivers organization said.
 
“We are sick of being trampled upon and mistreated,” said Humberto Canales, a driver with Pacer Cartage, according to the Justice for Port Drivers release. “We are joining the fight and coming out of the shadows to demand our rights as company employees to provide a better future for our families.”
 
Though labor strife at the ports is an ongoing issue, the recent protests are tied to two main causes: Dockworkers have been working without a new labor contract since July, and many port truck drivers say they’re losing employee benefits by being classified as independent owner-operators. 
 
The economic effect of a freight slowdown at the ports has brought elected leaders into the fold. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has asked workers to stop picketing and all sides to work toward a resolution, and the National Retail Federation has publicly asked President Obama to intervene and bring in a federal mediator.  The American Trucking Association recently said it would petition FMCSA to allow hours-of-service waivers for port truck drivers in an effort to ease port congestion.
 
Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, who also has written to the White House to request a mediator, addressed the port strike last week at a Washington, D.C., conference.
 
“There’s a big strike potential on the West Coast right now, and it’s Christmas,” Lundgren said, according to Retail Dive. “It’s a holiday period; we need the inventory to get through the system. This is the wrong time to slow down work.”
 
The majority of holiday shipping at the Port of Los Angeles, Sanfield said, was complete by late summer.
 
“Most of the holiday goods made their way through the supply chain in July, August, September, October,” Sanfield told Land Line Monday. “But there is the possibility some remaining holiday cargo is being affected.”

With apparently little they can accomplish to address the labor dispute, port leaders appear to be eyeing other improvements to help the movement of shipping containers.
 
At the Port of Long Beach, officials with the port’s Harbor Commission voted last week to convert 30 acres of undeveloped land at the port into a “Temporary Empty Container Depot.” The commission also is working on a plan to operate its own chassis fleet during peak cargo shipping seasons, and recently convinced private trucking fleets to move 3,000 chassis to the Long Beach area to help the flow of goods.
 
“We hear our customers loud and clear,” Long Beach Harbor Commission President Doug Drummond said, according to a port news release. “This congestion is not acceptable, and the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners is ensuring that the Port of Long Beach is doing everything it can to see that we clear up these issues now and forever.”
 
“The depot could be ready to start accepting empty containers in two weeks, which would bring some needed relief to our tenants and the entire supply chain,” Jon Slangerup, the port’s chief executive, said, according to the release. “This will help correct the chassis imbalance.”

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