Truck Drivers Left To Hustle If West Coast Ports Shut Down

on Wednesday, Dec. 7th

Could a proposed shutdown of all West Coast ports on December 12 hurt truck drivers?

West Coast occupiers are coming together in a collaborative effort to attempt a  shutdown of all major West Coast ports on December 12. They will model the shutdown on Occupy Oakland’s Nov. 2 action, when thousands of people showed up to protest at the Port of Oakland to demonstrate against multinational corporations.

Sites that plan to participate in the coordinated shutdown include Occupy LA, Occupy San Diego, Occupy Portland, Occupy Tacoma, Occupy Seattle and Occupy Oakland, and smaller cities plan to direct their supporters to those ports, according to Barucha Peller, a member of the Occupy Oakland Port Blockade Assembly.

The West Coast Port Shutdown is acting in solidarity with two labor struggles going on in Los Angeles and Longview, WA. An Occupy press release explaining the action reads:

“We’re shutting down these ports because of the union busting and attacks on the working class by the 1%: the firing of Port truckers organizing at SSA terminals in LA; the attempt to rupture ILWU union jurisdiction in Longview, WA by EGT.”

The Occupy sites are calling Goldman Sachs and EGT, “Wall Street on the waterfront.”

But this  scheduled port shutdown may be bad news for some truckers.  At the Port of Oakland, some independently contracted truck drivers said they were dismayed by the plan.

“It’s going to have a snowball negative effect. I depend on the port to feed my family. Why should I have to be put in a predicament because these people lack the skills to get a job?” said Vladimir Torres, an independent trucker who is based out of Long Beach, CA and comes to the port of Oakland on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Torres is an independent contractor who pointed out that he would be dually affected because he works at two West Coast ports.

The Teamsters union, which is the largest transportation union in the country and has publically supported the Occupy protesters in the past, includes truck drivers, airport shuttle drivers, delivery drivers and truck drivers. It is not supporting the Dec. 12 shutdown precisely because of how it could affect people like Torres.

“If they shut down the port, then the truck drivers are not going to be working and they won’t get paid. The longshoremen who operate the cranes — they get paid whether the port is open or not,” explained Doug Bloch, the political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7 in Oakland. “It’s one thing to camp out on City Hall and it’s another thing to shut down global trade… We’re in support of going after the one percent, but we need to protect the 99 percent too,” said Bloch.

There are a total of 5,734 trucks registered at the Port of Oakland, according to Chris Peterson, Chief Wharfinger. The number that come through the port every day varies since some come from out of state, and some make multiple pick ups every day.

According to Boch, many of these truck drivers who are non-union will miss out on essential daily wages if the port is shut down.

Torres is worried about those wages. “I hustle for myself… I have to pay truck payments and loans.  I won’t be able to go Christmas shopping for my family. I won’t be able to pay rent or buy groceries,” said Torres.

Another trucker named James who declined to give his last name  is also an independent truck driver who works at the port of Oakland every day. He said a shutdown will simply back up the work for later in the week. “Right now I work 11 to 13 hours a day, but I will have to work 14 hours,” he said.

“We get paid per container… Right now, the port is really slow, there’s not much going in or out. They make us wait longer for each container so that the union workers get paid more. We used to be able to make three runs a day, now we only make two runs. It hurts us, and helps the union,” said James.

On average, his gross daily pay is $350-$450, but after gas and insurance, he makes less than $20 per hour.

Non-union truck drivers have to buy their own trucks, gas and insurance. Bloch said the truckers might start lining up for their cargo at three or four in the morning. “They’re like day laborers on wheels,” according to Bloch.

“We’re really glad that Occupy is bringing more attention to how these truck drivers are getting exploited. Truck drivers are hauling cargo for companies like Home Depot, Target, and Walmart and these companies are making money hand over fist… but we’re not going to help organize and we’re not participating in it,” said Bloch.

On the other hand, Mike King, a member of the Occupy Oakland Port Blockade Assembly, said that all the truck drivers he has spoken to, are in favor of the shutdown. He said the protesters have been in communication with the drivers. “The concern about workers losing a day’s pay is a concern of the Occupy movement.  We’ve been at the port all week talking face to face with truck drivers on the port,” said King. He said that unfortunately, Occupy does not have the capacity to reimburse drivers for wages lost during the port shutdown.

The port shutdown is planned for the evening, and Bloch said that this  will have less of an impact on the drivers than shutting it down during the day, but it will have less impact on the companies as well.

In terms of planning for a confrontation with police, the Occupy sites have agreed that if any police violence occurs, protesters at all port blockade sites will prolong the protest into the following day. This could mean an additional day that non-union truck drivers will not get their wages.

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