The strike will be a limited, one-day job action at one targeted steamship line terminal. "We want to really shine the spotlight on the shipping companies that are the real economic powers at the ports," says Gretchen Donart, spokeswoman for Seattle Union Now, a cooperative organizing effort of the AFL-CIO and other unions. "They're the ones that control the flow of goods, and we think they're among the ultimate decision makers here." A longer strike, she says, puts the owner-operators at risk of missing truck payments and losing their trucks.
This is the second job action at the ports. A protest in late August was halted when drivers agreed to give the ports 30 days, until Oct. 1, to address their concerns regarding fair pay and the need for union recognition. In late September, the drivers presented 10 demands to port commissioners in Seattle, including union-recognition, an industry-wide master contract, health insurance, and fair wages and benefits.
Although the truckers at the port are independent contractors, many say that designation only gives the trucking companies an excuse not to pay fair wages or benefits. "When I applied for my job, I filled out an application for employment. That's what it said right on the form - employment," says owner-operator Gary Weller. "I had to take a driving test and show them my driving records. I had to take a drug test. If I was independent I could tell them to stick it.... But I have to do whatever the company says, or go look for work somewhere else."
Both ports have announced that they are meeting with other parties to address truckers' concerns. In Seattle, many gates are opening an hour earlier to try to reduce congestion. The talks could eventually lead to spreading out peak volumes, continual operations and flexible gate hours, improved information exchange between trucking companies and gate operators, the introduction of new technology, separate troubleshooting truck lanes and an increased use of on-dock rail facilities.
But organizers say that's not enough. "Their solution has been to increase the length of the work day by opening the gates earlier and working them through lunch," Donart says. "This has not resulted in any improvement in income for drivers, but has only lengthened their day.
"We believe this has to start with the drivers speaking with their own voice, and that means union recognition."
For more information, visit the Seattle Union Now web site at http://www.washtech.org/teamsters174.
(Photo: Diana Hulse, port owner-operator and mother of four, speaks at an earlier organizing rally. "Until I remarried last year, I had no health insurance for the children -- I'd just pray they wouldn't break something.")