Teamsters defend port truckers

LOS ANGELES — The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has begun a campaign to guarantee labor and safety protections for 10,000 independent truckers here.

A new program extends the hours that containers can enter and leave the marine terminals for the publicly owned Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbors. The terminals handle over 40 percent of the nation’s import. The union is pressing local and federal officials to add essential labor and safety provisions to the program. It is also promoting legislation to enable union organization of the so-called independent truckers.

Last year a coalition of corporate operators who lease the terminals was granted federal exemption from antitrust laws to jointly develop a fee system to cover their additional labor and related costs in extending the hours into night and weekend shifts. The system began July 25.

The Teamsters point out that the new system does not include provisions for additional costs and burdens on the truckers, trucking companies, small businesses and local communities.

Teamster Port Division Representative Miguel Lopez, who handles the Southern California ports, says the complicated fee system “benefits the terminal operators and

big shipping interests” like Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot.

A container handled in “peak” day hours will be liable to a fee. A container handled in “off” hours will have no fee and will also cancel the fee for a container handled in peak hours for the same company. A company that can ship equally well in “peak” and “off” hours is not affected much and can benefit from greater flexibility. The big companies operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but many smaller businesses operate in the peak hours only and will bear the fee burden, says Lopez.

The smallest operators are the truckers themselves. They are legally considered “independent” subcontractors since the federal deregulation of transportation in the 1980s. As a result, they currently do not benefit from federal labor laws.

The truckers are generally paid per haul by trucking companies, not per hours or work done. The new system means they will work longer hours; both days and nights, for the same pay, Lopez says.

The truckers are not paid for time spent or work done in the terminals loading and unloading. Since the terminal operators don’t pay these costs, there is not so much incentive for them to reduce the truckers’ waiting times and resultant congestion as well, the Teamster rep adds.

Economic globalization also means increasing port traffic, Lopez says, pointing out that will also increase congestion, pollution and exploitation if labor and community concerns are not built into the system.

Overworked truckers with less resources for equipment upkeep means increased vulnerability to health and safety danger for themselves, other terminal workers and the greater community, he notes.

At a July 22 rally of 100 truckers and Teamster, longshore and other union and community supporters, Lopez called for “registry verification of hours worked by truckers by all trucking companies.” In addition, he said, “terminal operators should have to compensate for duties done by truckers in the terminals, and ‘staging areas’ should be established where containers can be organized for rapid handling.”

The mayors and city councils of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which lease the facilities to the terminal operators, should use their leverage and influence for such additions to the new extended hours program, the Teamster leader said.

Another part of the solution is the unionization of the “independent truckers,” Lopez said after the rally. The Teamsters are working with State Assemblyman Joe Dunn (D) to get legislation enabling labor organization of the truckers in California.

“It’s something like the state’s farm labor legislation that helped the United Farm Workers union organize in the 1970s,” he said.