LABOR UNIONS SPLIT OVER REPEAL OF CARRIERSÆ ANTITRUST IMMUNITY
To the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, ocean carrier’s antitrust exemption has been a major contributor to the plight of the port drivers.
“Complete elimination of this exemption … is the only way to end the systematic exploitation of America’s port drivers,” said James Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters at a House Judiciary Committee hearing considering legislation to repeal ocean carrier antitrust in the country’s shipping law on Wednesday.
“Something is seriously wrong with the system where the laws protect multibillion dollar, foreign-owned cartel, but not the little guy — who is the hard-working port driver,” Hoffa said. “We are still operating under a 1916 law that gives the economic giants of steamship industry antitrust protection — and prosecutes the driver if he meets with three other truck drivers in a church basement or union hall to counter the unsustainable rates set by the very same ocean carrier cartel.”
The Teamsters blame the ocean carriers for using their antitrust immunity to unilaterally reduce the rates on the trucked portion of intermodal container moves.
“Unlike their relationships with shippers, ocean carriers enjoy tremendous leverage over port trucking companies due to the carriers’ ability to collaborate with one another on freight rates,” Hoffa said. “Because carriers know what other carriers pay for inland transport, they can present ‘take it or leave it’ rates to the trucking companies. Thus, there are no meaningful negotiations.”
Hoffa told the House Judiciary Committee that port drivers earn an average wage of $7 to $8 per hour before taxes. “The wages port drivers receive are unsustainable,” he said.
The World Shipping Council, which represents the liner carriers, told the House Judiciary Committee that the Teamster’s allegations aren’t true.
“Ocean carriers do not have antitrust immunity to collectively negotiate or set the rates they pay truckers or railroads,” said Christopher Koch, president and chief executive officer of the World Shipping Council in his testimony. “It is true that port drivers are not highly compensated. It is simply not true that carriers’ limited antitrust immunity is the problem or results in carriers charging their customers too little or in mistreating truckers … The problem is the imbalance in supply and demand, not antitrust immunity.”
The liner carriers also gained support from other maritime unions and U.S.-flag shipping associations in opposing the Fair Market Antitrust Immunity Reform (FAIR) Act of 2001 (H.R. 1253), which would abolish ocean carrier antitrust immunity, if passed.
“We strongly oppose H.R. 1253,” said a letter to the House Judiciary Committee signed by the leaders of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, Transportation Institute, American Maritime Officers, Maritime Institute for Research and Industrial Development, Seafarers International Union, and American Maritime Congress. “Its enactment would, at a minimum, create chaos and confusion within the liner industry, and cause severe and negative disruptions within our nation’s ports.”
“During these extraordinary times, as the United States and its trading partners around the world struggle to protect their shores and ports from terrorist attack, our nation cannot afford to deal with the instability and general chaos that H.R. 1253 could ignite in the international shipping industry,” the group said.