Update (9pm) by Yvonne Yen Liu and Darwin Bond-Graham
About 30 truckers and 150 supporters rallied in front of SSA’s terminals at the Port of Oakland yesterday. The truckers formed a picket line in time for the 7pm shift of ILWU longshorman. Unfortunately, ILWU Local 10 called the Oakland Police to stand guard in front of the rally, to protect the ILWU members who crossed the picket line. The SSA terminal was not shut down [as it was earlier in the day]. Officials from ILWU complained about how they were being brought to court by the Port for not going to work earlier in the day when the truckers shut down another terminal, this one operated by Ports America and TraPac. They grumbled that they were all in support of the truckers and labor solidarity, but they couldn’t afford to pay the fees in court, which would bankrupt the union.
Attorney Dan Siegel was present as a legal observer for the NLG. Siegel said that the truckers could be prosecuted for illegally stopping trade. He represented sand and quarry truckers a few years ago, also independent contractors, who went on strike for better wages. The state prosecuted the truckers with civil and criminal charges, accusing them of being a monopoly. Siegel was able to get the charges dropped, but only after an immense amount of legal wrangling.
Siegel said, “The ILWU has succeeded in getting a decent standards of living, now it’s time for the truckers, too.”
One of the strikers is Frank Adams, a trucker with the Port of Oakland Truckers Association. Adams has worked at the port for eight years. He and his fellow truckers, most of them Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Black men in their 30s and 40s, haven’t received a raise in 10 years, despite rising costs like fuel. The truckers often pay upwards of $2000 in expenses for their truck purchase and expenses, yet they only earn $46 to transport a container from the port to the Union Pacific railroad nearby. If they’re lucky enough to get a container. Since SSA acquired the two terminals sandwiched on each side, TTI (formerly Hanjin) and Global Gateway Central (EMS/APL), they only hired 20 workers, where before there were hundreds. Trucks are forced to queue in a single lane to enter the terminal, often waiting four to five hours to enter, all the time burning costly diesel fuel.
“The single lane causes a bottleneck, you can’t shut down your truck because the line moves slowly,” Adams told me. “It’s money wasted, and killing the earth, putting more sludge into the West Oakland community.”
Meanwhile, the truckers can’t leave their vehicles to use the bathroom. If they do, the port fines them $50 or kicks them out of the terminal for a year. “We deserve respectful treatment,” Miguel Cervantes, a trucker for 15 years at the Oakland port, said, “Not like criminals.”
The truckers’ loss is SSA’s gain. SSA made $1 billion last year, a day’s activity at the terminal earns the company $1 to 2 million. Goldman Sachs owns a 49% stake in Carrix, Inc., the parent company of SSA. “The same company who put our country into a financial crisis,” Adams added. Until recently SSA only controlled one of the Port of Oakland’s major terminals. SSA sued the Port of Oakland in 2009, however, alleging the Port had violated the U.S. Shipping Act by giving a competitor, Ports America, a more favorable lease. The Port of Oakland settled that lawsuit earlier this Summer by agreeing to allow SSA to take over several other terminals at the Port, creating a mega-terminal. The Port of Oakland is now dominated by SSA and Ports America.
At one point, around 6pm, the picketers realized that Miguel Masso, the Oakland police officer who killed 18-year old Alan Blueford was standing in the scrimmage line of cops. People started shouting, “Killer! Child killer!” until the field commander removed Masso from the line.
Around 7pm the trucker-organizers delivered a short speech to the crowd assembled in their support. They announced the day was a success and that the truckers would meet to decide on next steps. Members of the community also pledged solidarity, and to support whatever the truckers decided to do next.
UPDATE (4:30pm): Port of America Terminal (berths 20-16) was shut down this morning by truckers and ILWU refusing to cross the picket line. About 150 or so Occupy Oakland supporters showed up at 5am to help the 30 or so truckers. Around noon, folks went to TraPac (30-32), which closed its gates. TraPac was shut down on Friday in solidarity with the Bart workers strike. Further actions are scheduled for Monday evening.
10/21/2013 OAKLAND (12:01pm) – Truckers at the Port of Oakland began striking today at 5 a.m. to protest unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices, according to the Port of Oakland Truckers Association (POTA)–a group they have organized to represent their interests.
The truckers will focus on the Oakland International Container Terminal, operated by SSA Marine. The terminal is one of seven at the port and, according to the truckers, the site of the most severe congestion. The action comes in the wake of a previous work stoppage by the drivers this August. Since then, many of their complaints have remained the same, but they have become better organized.
Because port truckers are independent contractors, they cannot technically join a union. However, they have organized themselves to address costs associated with environmental compliance, low levels of pay and poor working conditions. POTA says that truckers have not seen any increase in the payment per cargo load in ten years, while cost of living in the Bay Area has risen dramatically and the cost of diesel has quadrupled.
The truckers have four basic demands:
1. Compensation for trucks that are EPA compliant, as the expenses for such compliance is currently borne solely by the owner operators.
2. Funding to upgrade non-compliant trucks to EPA guidelines.
3. A congestion fee to compensate truckers for the time they spend waiting to be loaded with cargo. Currently, truckers are not compensated for wait time, which can be as long as six hours at some terminals.
4. Higher rates of pay per load. Rates haven’t increased in ten years.
The full text of the open letter disseminated by POTA:
“This letter is to address the purpose of the Port of Oakland Trucker Association protest and work stoppage at the Port of Oakland on August 19 2013. On August 14, 2013, a letter was hand delivered to Mayor Jean Quan’s office notifying her of our intent to protest several work related issues. This letter went unanswered. Mayor Quan’s inaction left us no choice but to carry out our protest. We have since made contact with the Mayor’s office and established a trucker’s task force that has conducted weekly meetings with Port of Oakland staff, terminal management, motor carriers and all stakeholders. We have shown our ongoing commitment to be open to communication. Unfortunately, the time has come for us to resume our protest. We will do so beginning October 21, 2013, should no agreeable solutions be in place by October 18, 2013.
1. Owner Operators request green emission fees payable directly to owners of 2007 epa compliant trucks in order to offset additional monthly expenses of at least $1500 due to the California Air Resource Board implementation of stricter regulations for trucks that operate in California ports. A refusal of financial compensation will lead to under-serviced trucks traveling down our highways, putting public safety at greater risk of injury or death.
2. Owner Operators request grant funding for truck upgrades or temporary extensions. Currently, trucks that operate port and rail service in California represent 5% of the trucking community, yet fall under more stringent emission regulations that hold us 100% liable for improving air quality. More lenient rules for the other 95% of the trucks in the state allow them until as late as 2022 to meet these same standards. According to reports published, due to port trucks installing filters on their trucks in 2010 (at cost of $20,000 each), as well as truck upgrades, we have surpassed expectations to the point that we have nearly met the higher standards in place for 2020. Without compensation or an extension, several hundred owner operators and their family’s health and welfare will be threatened due to them being put out of business.
3. Owner Operators request a congestion fee. SSA’s recent merger of three terminals has caused excessive waiting time. There is now a minimum of three hours and up to seven hours of unpaid wait time. For this, we are requesting that a congestion fee be implemented so that we are paid for waiting time. It is our belief that a fee places the burden where it belongs, on the terminal owners, to find solutions and become more efficient. Besides the wages that we are losing, there have been multiple accidents involving trucks due to the congestion. Our stance on the merger of terminals is that our safety and service have been sacrificed due to ongoing congestion that, we worry, will ultimately lead to injury or death. We are also concerned with the negative impact that the SSA terminal merger has had on those that do business at this facility. This has also compromised the health and welfare of neighboring communities by causing trucks to idle for hours while trying to off-load and pick-up containers, as well as idling for hours while entering and exiting terminals. The long hours required inside the SSA terminal, without access to restrooms, is inhumane and has put a burden on truckers to find ways to dispose of their waste. More transtainers and more calls for ILWU workers could help solve this problem.
4. Owner Operators are requesting motor carriers to increase their rate of pay as well as pay for services we provide (such as flips). It is easily understood that our rates have not increased in nearly ten years but our cost of doing business has more than doubled.
The Port of Oakland Trucker Association is committed to making a sustainable living.”
- Empire Logistics field reports (Yvonne Yen Liu and Darwin Bond-Graham)