Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Seattle Trucker Protests Enter Third Week

Hundreds of drayage truck drivers who haul goods to and from the Port of Seattle held a solidarity rally at the port Feb. 13, marking the end of the second week of a walkout that began Jan. 31.

An estimated 300 to 400 truckers and supporters, some carrying signs with messages such as “Justice for Seattle Port Truck Drivers” and “Fairness + Safety for All,” gathered around 9 am for the Monday rally at the Spokane Street Bridge Fishing Area and marched to the SSA Marine facility at Terminal 30.

The protest came on the heels of a Feb. 11 town hall meeting in Seattle’s neighboring city of Tukwila, where drivers aired their grievances and asked local elected officials for support. And the day before that, activists met with port, railroad and trucking company management officials, including Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani, to go over their issues.

Hundreds of truckers began picketing the port Jan. 31 in protest of pay and job safety issues. Among their grievances are, they say, being forced to carry overweight and unsafe loads of cargo, and being classified as independent owner-operators under the law, which denies them the eligibility to form a union.

The drivers have the support of the Teamsters union, which is trying to organize the drivers and help them fight for the right to collectively bargain.

Two bills pending in the state Legislature would address some of the drivers’ issues: House Bill 2395 would reclassify drayage truckers as employees, instead of the current independent contractor designation. And HB 2527 would make shipping companies responsible for any defects in chassis and containers, rather than truckers.

Both bills are still at the committee level, however, and it could take weeks, if not months for them to come to a vote by the full House and Senate.

In the meantime, hundreds of truckers continue to stay off the job, but how large of a dent their departure from the ranks of the working has made on the port’s overall operations. According to port spokesman Peter McGraw, things have sporadically slowed down, but the walkout hasn’t resulted in any incoming ships or outgoing loads of cargo being turned away.

Normally, about 1,400 trucks move through the port hauling goods. But even though an estimated 300 to 400 off the job to picket, replacement workers hired by trucking companies have managed to make up part of the difference.