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'Occupy' Protesters Target Ports

December 12, 2011

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There were protests and even some arrests Monday at West Coast ports as the anti-Wall Street movement hit tried to slow down container traffic.


Some facilities were shut down by varying degrees by protesters affiliated with the nationwide "Occupy" movement, with the biggest appearing to be in Oakland, Calif. The Journal of Commerce reported that about 1,000 protesters gathered at one entrance to the Port of Oakland, blocking traffic and causing a long backup of trucks. Some of the terminals at the port decided midday to close for the day.

One trucking company, Devine and Sons, decided to cancel all trips to the Port of Oakland Monday, meaning about 200 independent contractor truck drivers would not get paid that day.

There also were protests inland in places such as Walmart distribution centers in Salt Lake City and Denver. In Houston, people were arrested near the Ship Channel for blocking the I-10 ramp to I-610.

One goal, organizers said, was to put a dent in the cash flow of Goldman Sachs, a stakeholder in the port operation SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT.

According to published reports, protests partially shut down the port in Portland, Ore., although operations continued despite the sporadic disruptions to truckers trying to enter and exit the marine terminal gates. Long Beach police made two arrests during the demonstration there, but port operations were not significantly impacted, reports CNN. There also were a few arrests at San Diego's port, but no disruptions were reported.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters put out an "open letter from America's port truck drivers," saying Goldman Sachs and other companies exploit port truck drivers by "disguising" the drivers as independent contractors.

"We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you '99 Percenters' for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention," said the letter, said to be the views of a small group of port truckers representing their fellow drivers.

Other truckers, however, complained to media that they couldn't afford to go without pay if the protests kept them from working.

In an opinion piece Friday for the Sacramento Bee, Michael Shaw, vice president of external affairs for the California Trucking Association, asked, "How does punishing thousands of small businesses send a message to the 1%?"

"What would be the real impact of an Occupy blockade at the ports? In the short term, typical port truckers stand to lose the $500 or more they can earn per day, depending on the number of turns or trips they are able to complete," Shaw noted.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the West Coast said it was not sanctioning any shutdowns, although the organization does share protesters' concerns about alleged corporate abuses.

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