July 11, 2005

Truckers mull boycott at Southern California port

By Daniel Sorid

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Truck drivers at the nation's
busiest seaport complex are being urged to stage a one-day work
stoppage over concerns about new overnight shifts, potentially
disrupting cargo deliveries at the start of the year's busiest
shipping season.

Unsigned leaflets being circulated at the ports of Los
Angeles and Long Beach call for a "stop work meeting" on July
23, the day that port operators begin late-night hours and
implement a surcharge for weekday deliveries.

According to one leaflet obtained by Reuters, drivers are
angered about having to work overnight shifts without any
increase in pay. "If the truckers allow this to happen then all
of the money will stay in the pockets of the brokers," the
leaflet, printed in English and Spanish, reads.

Los Angeles and Long Beach form the primary U.S. cargo
transportation gateway to Asia, and cargo shipments are
approaching peak levels as retailers prepare for the onslaught
of the Christmas shopping season.

The ports have thus far avoided last year's chaos, when
port labor shortages left cargo sitting on ships. Still, the
potential for worker unrest have many in the import business on

Beyond labor matters, some are concerned about the
readiness of the PierPass program.

"There's a lot of people who are concerned that there are
going to be huge and massive disruptions," said Robin Lanier,
the executive director of the Waterfront Coalition, a
Washington, D.C.-based group that represents importers such as
Toyota Motor Corp. and Target .


While the longshoreman's union has premium night-shift pay,
the port's 10,000 short-haul truck drivers -- largely Hispanic
men who shuttle cargo to warehouses under contract -- have no
union to rely upon to seek better terms for night shifts.

The drivers are owner-operators who are paid per haul, and
work as independent contractors for one of the many trucking
services companies at the port. Because the drivers are not
employees, collective bargaining is essentially not an option.

"I do believe that this labor pool has been exploited too
long," said Dick Coyle, the president of Devine Intermodal, one
of the trucking carriers in the Southern California ports that
hires the drivers.

PierPass officials said any decrease in highway congestion
would help drivers and allow for three hauls a day instead of
one or two. Others, however, say drivers are being asked to
accede to a change that provides them no explicit benefits.

The Teamsters, the powerful truckers union, does not
support any work stoppage, but has taken notice of the port
driver's concerns, said Miguel Lopez, the Teamsters' Southern
California port representative.


Taking a page from the PierPass program itself, several
trucking companies described plans to charge a night surcharge
to cover costs and give drivers an incentive to work late.

"If our drivers don't want to work nights, we can't make
them work nights," said Patty Senecal, the vice president of
Transport Express, a local transport and warehouse services

Surcharges could negate the PierPass off-peak savings. As
such, big importers may balk at the fees. "That would be a very
unfortunate response," Lanier, who represents Target and other
big importers, said. "I think they will have a lot of trouble
assessing a fee."