Port of Oakland works to find answers for frustrated truck drivers
Port of Oakland officials do not expect any work disruptions by truck drivers who ferry cargo off the docks to inland distribution points until independent truckers and trucking companies at least have a chance to meet later this month.
The port authority is trying to facilitate discussions to avoid a repeat of the work stoppage by many owner-operators that nearly closed the port for almost a week in early May. Drivers went back to work after several trucking companies agreed to address concerns about low rates, working conditions and non-sharing of fuel surcharge collections to help them with their biggest operating expense.
Port officials, motor carrier executives and a handful of spokespersons for more than 300 unorganized drivers met Friday in advance of a scheduled June 23 meeting, port spokesman Harold Jones said. Port officials agreed to study four issues that could help ease concerns about fairness and rates after they discovered that a “substantial number” of the 20 to 25 trucking companies had not increased rates or made other improvements as promised, he said.
The port agreed to study the feasibility of establishing a truck dispatch center, a vehicle insurance program that will allow owner-operators to switch companies more easily and a truck driver registry.
The drivers believe a centralized truck dispatch center that houses a number of trucking companies in one facility would help them get more uniform rates for the same routes and enable trucking companies to keep similar hours so drivers can better plan their days.
The lack of insurance portability makes it difficult for independent truckers to find another trucking contractor with better benefits. The drivers want some sort of umbrella insurance policy that might allow them more mobility, which in turn could provide an incentive for motor carriers to raise rates to keep drivers. It costs drivers who own their own rigs time and money to get new insurance policies every time they switch companies, and many feel it is not worth the hassle even if they are dissatisfied with their situation.
Drivers also want access to a centralized fuel surcharge registry so they can monitor what fuel surcharges motor carriers charge shippers, Jones said. Discussion held out the possibility that the registry and other types of cooperation might open the door for the group purchase of fuel that could offer some savings as well, Jones told American Shipper.
Finally, the port agreed to see if its living wage policy could be applied to the maritime area, he said.
Cargo operations were reduced by 50 percent during the first few of days of the May protest. By the fourth day only about 5 to 10 percent of normal cargo traffic was moving in and out of the port, Jones said. When some drivers continued to block roads and threw rocks the day after the tentative agreement was reached the port obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting anyone from blocking the roadways or harassing commercial activity in the port area.
Jones said port officials have been assured that no work stoppage is contemplated before the June 23 meeting.