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 Angeles/Long Beach.
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 behavior.”