Wednesday, independent truckers staged protest rallies at 16 ports in the U.S. and Canada, organized by the Teamster Union's Port Trucker Division, calling for the passing through of fuel surcharges, better rates and faster turnaround times at the ports.In New Orleans and Portland, Ore., Teamsters delivered a copy of the union's Port Truckers Bill of Rights to port administrators -- a document that has been delivered to many other ports during protest rallies earlier this year.
Teamster organizers initially predicted the pickets would see heavy turnouts, like ones in the past weeks at facilities in California and Georgia. But while Teamsters spokesman Ron Carver described the action as a "good protest," with lots of excitement, the number of truckers actually participating was not huge.
In Boston, for instance, only 25 truckers showed up to pass out leaflets at the port gates. However, Boston is not a large port to begin with, and this was the first time the Teamsters had done anything with truckers there.
In Savannah, Ga., where several hundred truckers staged a protest over the Labor Day weekend, fewer than 100 truckers showed up for yesterday's rally. But local spokesman Jim Stewart says many of the truckers stayed home instead of coming to the rally because of intimidation from the trucking companies.
"They told them they'd pull their lease if they saw them or their truck by the side of the road or on the news," he said. Stewart reported that port traffic was slow because of the number of truckers who stayed home. Despite the low turnout, he was upbeat. "It's showed the steamship lines and the port authority that we're not going away until someone does something about the situation."
Similarly, in Newark, N.J., Carver reported that "traffic was slow but I think more because a lot of the drivers, knowing it was a day of protest, took the day off."
Rallies and informational picketing also took place at the ports in Baltimore, Charleston (S.C.), Chicago, Detroit, Hampton Roads/Norfolk (Va.), Jacksonville (Fla.), Long Beach (Calif.), Oakland (Calif.), Seattle-Tacoma, Houston, Philadelphia, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Teamster organizers however, say the real point of these demonstrations is to help create a movement that will eventually allow these owner-operators to be represented by a union, something that is currently prohibited under federal antitrust laws.
"We're building for a long range movement, which is to unionize the port drivers," Carver said. "In the end, only a contract is going to guarantee that the exploitation is ended and that they get fuel surcharges that are passed on 100% to the drivers."
The rallies were held in conjunction with worldwide protests organized by the London-based International Transport Workers Federation.