American Shipper, April 28, 2004
Teamsters deny any role in planning work shutdown for L.A. port drivers
THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS said it is not behind any
efforts to organize work stoppages by truck drivers serving the Port of Los
The denial came from the local head of the union's port division, even as
rumors swirled that independent truckers are planning some type of protest
about rising fuel prices that could disrupt port operations.
The Teamsters, which is trying to get drayage drivers to let the union
represent them, is encouraging truckers to show up in support when the
union presents a petition on fuel surcharges to the Port of Los Angeles
Harbor Commission during a regular board meeting this morning, Miguel
Lopez, the Teamster port representative, confirmed. Lopez presented the
same petition to the Port of Long Beach Harbor Commission Monday, but fewer
than five truck drivers showed up, port officials said.
Lopez attributed talk of a driver slowdown to a freelance line-haul driver
who is trying to stir up interest among the Mexican immigrant community for
a protest against petroleum companies. Lopez said he witnessed about 30 to
40 people at a loosely organized meeting last Saturday. Rumors, fanned by
word of mouth in the community and by drivers communicating on radios,
continue to spread that a work stoppage is planned on Friday, Lopez said.
"We are not part of that at all. These truckers are not members of the
union," he said.
Lopez said a union cannot legally organize a work stoppage or slowdown
unless it officially represents members who work under a collectively
bargained contract. "We are not going to lend our name to something unless
we have control over the agenda," he told American Shipper.
The Teamsters called on the Long Beach Harbor Commission to appoint a panel
of industry and academic experts to devise a formula for setting fuel
surcharges to help compensate truck drivers who own and operate their own
vehicles, according to the resolution. Without mentioning who should pay
the surcharge, the petition appears aimed at vessel and terminal operators
who contract truck drivers to haul their customers' goods to and from the
port to regional distribution or intermodal transfer facilities.
Drayage drivers, who work long hours for low pay, complain that vessel
operators take advantage of them by only offering cutthroat rates on which
they can barely make a living and cover escalating expenses like insurance,
fuel and maintenance.
The Teamsters said it wants the harbor commission to monitor the surcharge
system to make sure vessel operators pass on the whole fee to the truckers.
"The drivers are just cannon fodder for an industry that is seeking to
exploit them," Lopez said.
The resolution said the surcharge formula should be voluntary. It also
asked the harbor commission to establish a voluntary registry of fuel
surcharges used by different companies that can be accessed by motor
carriers, truck drivers, importers and other parties.
Port officials in Long Beach are skeptical that they have any authority to
get involved in private transactions between the terminals and service
providers, but Lopez said the ports can use their landlord powers to
pressure terminals to follow port policies. He said it is in the public
interest for terminals to extend gate hours and improve appointment systems
in order to reduce idling associated with truck congestion and improve air
quality in the area.
"They control who rents or uses the terminals and whether they are being
done in a safe way," Lopez said. "Like any landlord, if the tenant is in
violation of the lease agreement he can press them to move or adjust their