Labor Unrest Heating Up At Washington Ports
September 28, 1999
Owner-operator container haulers are gearing up to strike at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, WA.
On Aug. 31, Teamsters Local 174 voted to suspend a strike by truck drivers, who want to win union recognition and fair pay. They gave the ports until the end of September to work with freight companies, container shipping terminal operators and shipping lines to resolve driver concerns. But a spokesperson for Seattle Union Now sees no indication that there won't be a strike, according to published reports.
Yesterday, truckers formed a lunchtime caravan to the Port of Seattle's headquarters. The owner-operators planned to press port commissioners about their concerns. A 10-point outline includes specifics on pay, safety, health plans and other issues. The biggest issue is that drivers, who are paid a flat rate for each load regardless of the time it takes, say delays at shipping terminals and railroad yard gates are making it tough to meet their truck payments, much less make a profit that will allow for health insurance or retirement money.
Last week, the truckers gained the support of the King County Labor Council, which represents 140,000 Seattle area union members. The AFL/CIO has also pledged its support for the approximately 1,000 drivers operating as independent contractors at 28 trucking companies serving the Seattle and Tacoma ports.
About half of the truckers have signed Teamster union cards. Some drivers don't support the job action. They want the freedom to be their own boss and set their own work schedule and don't want to be burdened by a collective bargaining agreement.
Both ports have announced that they are meeting with other parties to address truckers' concerns. In Seattle, many gates are opening an hour earlier to try to reduce congestion. The talks could eventually lead to spreading out peak volumes, continual operations and flexible gate hours, improved information exchange between trucking companies and gate operators, the introduction of new technology, separate troubleshooting truck lanes and an increased use of on-dock rail facilities.
The actions in Washington State followed a month-long strike at the port of Vancouver, British Columbia, which ended after the majority of the trucking companies agreed to pay an hourly wage rather than a flat rate per load. However, published reports indicate that more than a dozen carriers are refusing to honor the hourly wage agreement, which went into effect a week ago.