Trucks were parked bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see at the Port of Newark yesterday as hundreds of independent truckers gathered to protest broken promises on fuel surcharges, high taxes, low rates and other issues. They will continue their rally today with a slow-moving convoy on the New Jersey Turnpike.
An estimated 200 trucks and additional cars convoyed into Trenton, the state capitol, yesterday morning. The trucks slowly circled the streets around the State House while representatives met briefly with legislators, who assured them that Gov. Christine Whitman has written a letter to President Clinton urging action.
From Trenton, the convoy continued on to the Port of Newark. There, they handed out flyers and attracted a huge crowd.
Hector Pabon, a 29-year-old owner-operator from Jersey City, stood on his tractor and addressed the crowd in English and Spanish. His voice, cracking with emotion, carried despite the lack of loudspeakers, and the truckers listened eagerly.
"It's up to us to talk to them (in Washington, DC)," he said, saying the eventual plan is to gather a huge convoy to head to the Capitol. "We have to send the message, but we have to stay together. We are here for our families and for the future. Either we fix it or we don't work anymore."
Pabon brandished letters sent by trucking companies that had offered to pay surcharges varying from 3 cent to 8 cents per mile. But the surcharges have not come through, he said, tearing the letters up as the crowd chanted, "Today is the day, stand together."
The demonstration was peaceful, with the crowd letting trucks through. Most trucks blared their support for the rally. There were about two dozen police on hand for crowd control, but they were pleasant. One said he had never seen anything like this at the piers.
Today the truckers plan to gather at the Port of Newark at 6 a.m. and convoy through the port, then run a short distance on the Turnpike at 5 mph. Pabon asked the truckers to bring posterboard signs to attach to the trucks in the convoy to help get out their message. They also plan to have a flatbed and loudspeakers at the port upon the return of the convoy.
Another rally is scheduled for Sunday in Jersey City at 3 p.m. at 656 Grand Street.
A man from the Teamsters Port Division was there to help, but Pabon emphasized that the Teamsters did not organize this action. The Teamsters representative said this was part of a national movement on the part of fed-up port truckers.
(Photo by Bette Garber)