Port drivers turned out in large numbers to picket outside the port gates, according to Jim Stewart, a spokesman for the truckers. Some trucks continued to operate, but Stewart estimates 60% to 70% of the ocean freight was left at the docks Thursday and Friday as truckers either stayed home or were busy picketing.
This is not the first time the drivers have staged a protest, but what made this one different was that representatives of other waterfront labor groups - longshoremen and tugboat personnel - joined the truckers in their rally.
"This gave management something to think about as we get closer to the day port drivers can finally sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate a fair union contract," said Stewart.
Members of the Teamsters local were there, as well. The national union has been working to organize port truckers nationwide; the main problem is that most of them are independent contractors, who by law cannot form or join a union or engage in collective bargaining. Nevertheless, about 250 truckers have signed union pledge cards in Savannah. Stewart reports that several companies have indicated a willingness to recognize the truckers as employees rather than independent contractors.
The drivers' main complaint is that slow turnaround times have severely cut into their earnings. Although the Georgia Port Authority is trying to make changes to help the situation, it's not happening fast enough to make up for the growth at the port. And the truckers are tired of Port Authority officials saying things are better when they're not.
"What has actually been happening here is a far cry from the rosy picture our Georgia Port Authority management has been painting through the local media for the past several months," says Stewart. "They would have everyone believe that all local workers, including the drivers, have been on an economic boom because of new steamship line business the authority has brought to the area."
The Port Authority says it is installing a $4 million computer system upgrade and a new gate facility, with automatic truck scales, interactive voice response system and new computers. The new gate facility is expected to be finished in about a month.