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Truckers call for nationwide port strike
by Bill Mongelluzzo

June 23, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Truckers are again calling for a nationwide strike to protest high fuel prices and working conditions at the nation's ports. The strike, slated for the week of June 28-July 4, coincides with the start of the peak shipping season (schedules).

The movement appears to be a loosely-coordinated effort by harbor truck drivers from California to the East Coast to pressure shipping lines to pay higher diesel fuel surcharges. In flyers printed in English and Spanish, the drivers also cited poor working conditions at the nation's ports and a recent court decision that will open the border to Mexican truck drivers under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

At the same time, the Teamsters issued an open letter to the steamship industry urging lines to compensate drivers for high fuel costs or face a "long hot summer on the docks."

The Teamsters for several years have been attempting to organize the mostly independent truckers at the nation's ports. But the union denied it is behind the calls for a strike, said Chuck Mack, director of the Teamsters Port Division.

Mack said the union is urging shipping lines to address the root causes of driver discontent. Drivers need higher pay, compensatory fuel surcharges when the price of diesel spikes and compensation when the drivers wait in line at marine terminals or when they shuttle containers inside marine terminals.

"The level of frustration among drivers is high," Mack said. "All it takes is a spike in fuel costs or delays at the terminals to set them off."

Union officials met June 14 in Washington with port drivers and local leaders from 18 ports from Los Angeles-Long Beach to New York- New Jersey to discuss the fuel situation. Following the meeting, Teamsters President James Hoffa in a statement warned carriers that "without a swift response drivers are likely to park their trucks until conditions improve."

Truckers in May shut down the Port of Oakland for a week, and there were scattered demonstrations in Los Angeles-Long Beach, Houston and Hampton Roads, Va.

"They have no way to address these issues so they take job actions. They stop working," Mack said.

Harbor truckers in the past week have been distributing flyers at ports on the West, Gulf and East coasts calling for a nationwide strike beginning next Monday.

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