Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Cashman noted that the number of intermodal containers moving through U.S. ports has doubled in the past decade. Experts also forecast that over the next two decades, the number of containers moving through the larger ports will increase by 175%, he said.
Yet port truckers, who haul the containers in and out of the ports, are not reaping the economic benefits of this boom, he said. On the contrary, because of the increased congestion, these drivers are making even less because they are paid by the load.
"Researchers have estimated that port drivers spend 25% of their workday waiting in line without pay," he said. "After expenses, port drivers earn an average between $7 and $8 per hour. While waiting in these lines, port drivers are burning expensive fuel and needlessly damaging the environment."
Cashman suggested the following solutions:
- Extending gate hours
- Increasing the number of port gates
- Offering incentives to shipping lines to avoid vessel bunching
- Usage of off-dock container yards
- Hiring sufficient longshore labor
- Enforcement of chassis maintenance and repair regulations
- Paid waiting time for port drivers.
"It's fashionable to advocate high-tech computerization as a solution to port congestion," Cashman said. "We believe, however, the solution lies with proper staffing, availability of roadworthy chassis and off-port container yards. If steamship lines and terminal operators were required to pay truck drivers waiting time, these problems could be solved tomorrow."
The union is trying to organize the more than 40,000 drivers serving two dozen ports throughout the country -- a task complicated by the fact that most port drivers are classified as independent contractors and thus by law cannot engage in collective bargaining.