As independent truckers who haul in and out of the nation's ports prepare to meet in South Carolina tomorrow, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether their actions violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.
The FTC's investigation was sparked by a seven-day strike by owner-operators at the Port of Baltimore
in early September. The Container and Rail Haulers of America, representing the Baltimore truckers, said long delays at the port meant the truckers can't haul enough containers in a day to make a profit off the flat rates paid per container. The truckers went back to work after voting to affiliate with the International Longshoremen's Assn.
Now the investigation has spread to a southern association representing container haulers, the United Container Movers Assn. Several of its officers have been served subpoenas ordering them to testify this month as the FTC tries to "determine whether owner-operator truckers and the associations to which they belong have engaged in, or are engaging in, unfair methods of competition, in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act….by engaging in or threatening boycott activity, and/or concerted withholding of trucking services at ports in the United States."
Jim Stewart, a board member of the United Container Movers Assn. in Savannah, GA, is one of the owner-operators who has received a subpoena. Among the information the commission has asked for are documents pertaining to a meeting being held tomorrow in Charleston, SC.
The UCMA is bringing together port operators from across the country at this meeting to talk about what they can do to improve their working conditions. Representatives from port trucker organizations in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Houston, and Jacksonville, FL, will be there, along with International Longshoremen's Assn. and Teamsters representatives. Port truckers who have recently staged protests in the Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, BC, Canada, areas, weren't sure if they could sent representatives, but sent their best wishes and support, Stewart says.
As owner-operators, the truckers are prohibited from collective bargaining by federal labor and antitrust laws. They want to get their legal status changed to employees of the trucking companies, and be organized by a national union. It's an uphill battle, as the Communications Workers of America found when it tried to organize drivers in Los Angeles-Long Beach several years ago. Trucking companies refused to bargain with them, citing antitrust law.
Two years ago, the UCMA truckers shut down for about five weeks, Stewart says. The strike accomplished nothing, and several members lost their shirts - and their trucks.
"We want a fair living wage and to be able to negotiate and have some input into steamship contracts and what happens around the port," Stewart says. "Right now the independent truckers are nothing but bottom feeders."
Port truckers in Savannah make $20 to $25 per container, Stewart says. In years past, the owner-operators could pull 10 to 14 boxes a day. However, port traffic has caused so many delays that today, they're lucky to pull eight boxes. After making truck payments, paying for fuel and other expenses, it's nearly impossible to make a living.
The problems are much the same at ports all over the country. Currently, the Teamsters and AFL-CIO are working together in organizing efforts at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, WA. Earlier this year, truckers at the Vancouver port won an agreement paying an hourly wage rather than flat fees.
For more information on tomorrow's UMCA meeting, call Stewart at (912) 748-6202 or e-mail SEA719@aol.com.