Hundreds of port truckers staged rallies yesterday at the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland, Calif., as a kickoff in preparation for worldwide rallies next week.
In Oakland, truckers circled through the port, horns blaring. Odus Hall, local organizer with Teamsters Local 70, estimated between 200 and 300 trucks joined in the demonstration, which lasted at least two hours.
"They're peacefully protesting the high cost of diesel fuel and generally the low rates and the conditions here at the port," Hall said. "They're basically traveling through the port legally and lawfully, yet they are affecting the operations of the terminals simply by the sheer numbers and volumes of trucks moving into the port. It hasn't stopped freight movement, but that wasn't our intent. It was our intention to have a legal, lawful protest just to get their attention."
Organizers in Long Angeles/Long Beach estimated approximately 200 people showed up for its rally, held in front of the Los Angeles Port Authority headquarters. Teamsters leaders and local political leaders made speeches, then a convoy of trucks and personal vehicles wound through APL and Mitsui, two of the steamship lines the drivers have had problems with, according to West Coast organizer Ed Burke.
"I think it went quite well as rallies go," Burke said. "I think we've got more and more support that's building on behalf of the drivers."
In addition to Teamsters leaders and local politicians speaking to the crowd, Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti spoke about the issue of insurance and worker's compensation fraud, which the drivers believe many of the port companies have been involved in.
Other speakers included a Long Beach city council member, a state senator, a candidate for the major of Los Angeles and former speaker of the house, and Teamsters and other labor leaders.
The West Coast rallies are viewed as a warm-up for protests planned in 65 countries on Oct. 4. The event is organized by the World International Transport Workers Federation, an umbrella group of unions in the trucking industry all around the world, including the Teamsters union. In this country, the Teamsters will focus their rallies on port drivers in the Pacific Northwest, California, the Gulf Coast, South Atlantic, Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Drivers will be demonstrating for shorter hours, higher pay and lower fuel costs.
Although the Teamsters organized the rallies, they were careful to avoid any appearance of organizing a strike or work stoppage. Such a move would violate antitrust laws, because as independent contractors, the port truckers cannot legally withhold their services.
"The goal is a symbolic protest," said Ron Carver, spokesman for the Teamsters Port Division. "We are not attempting to shut the ports down or slow down the movement of freight."
The Teamsters union, which has been trying to organize port drivers nationwide, has plans to get around the antitrust laws eventually.
"The Teamsters are convinced that we can overcome these legal obstacles by helping the drivers create union companies that will employ them, or bringing in Teamsters companies that will employ them," said Carver. "That will give them employee status and give them the rights that most other workers in America enjoy under the law, the kind of wages and benefits that all truckers deserve."