Friday, February 17, 2012

Seattle Truckers End Walkout

After two weeks off the job, an estimated 300 to 400 drayage truck drivers who normally work hauling loads to and from the Port of Seattle have ended a walkout they conducted to bring attention to their numerous workplace grievances.

“In only two weeks, port truck drivers have moved truck safety and working condition issues to the forefront,” said David West, executive director of the Puget Sound Sage coalition, one of the main organizers of the protest.

The truckers began picketing the port Jan. 31 in protest of pay and job safety issues. Among their grievances were 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, who have formed an organization called the Seattle Port Truckers Association, are also backed by the Teamsters union, which is trying to organize the drivers and help them fight for the right to collectively bargain.

During the walkout, drivers and supporters not only picketed the port, but also participated in various meetings with port staff, trucking and railroad company representatives and area elected officials in order to try finding common ground.
As a result, the drivers managed to win some concessions from some employers, including a pay per load raise to $44 from $40 a trip, according to Paul Marvy, a labor-union researcher advising the truckers.

Some trucking companies have also agreed to compensate drivers who wind up waiting in line over an hour to pick up or drop off a load, Marvy told the Seattle Times, and that companies would also pay for some trips drivers make when not carrying a load.

Normally, as many as 1,400 trucks haul goods to and from the port.

The walkout, which was essentially a strike, came as the Washington state Legislature is considering two bills that would address some of the drivers’ issues. One, House Bill 2395 would reclassify drayage truckers as employees, instead of the current independent contractor designation. 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.

A day after the end of the walkout, the port reported that normalcy had returned.
“Container cargo at the Port of Seattle is moving through terminals without any delays and normal operations are reported at the many companies that handle the container cargo in and around the harbor,” the port said in a Feb. 15 statement provided to the media.