Independent truckers at the Seattle and Tacoma ports could walk off the job as early as today.
The truckers called off a strike in late August and gave the port and trucking companies 30 days to come up with a plan to raise pay and improve working conditions. That grace period expired yesterday, but union representatives aren't saying when they might continue the job action.
The truckers held a rally in Seattle Tuesday and presented 10 demands to the port commission there.
At the top of the list was union recognition. The problem is, most of the truckers involved are independent contractors, who are prohibited by law from collective bargaining. Also on the list were an industry-wide master contract, fair wages and benefits, fair lease rates for trucks, health insurance, pensions, job security, no discrimination, safe working conditions and employee benefits.
"Additionally, the Teamsters union has been talking to staff at the port of Seattle and outlining the legal basis they see the ports have as landlords to make an industry wide contract happen," says Gretchen Donart, spokeswoman for Seattle Union Now, a group sponsored by the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters union that is trying to organize owner-operators in the Puget Sound area.
One of the key complaints is that because truckers are paid by the load, time wasted waiting at the docks cuts significantly into their already-thin profits. Although the ports of Seattle and Tacoma have been working in recent weeks to try to improve issues such as turnaround times, many of the issues are beyond their control.
"The truckers are asking the port to bring together all the parties involved to work out something," says Donart, including the freight companies that employ the truckers, the terminal operators and the steamship lines. "We're asking the port to take an organizing role. So far, talks certainly haven't resulted in very much forward motion."