New labor issue could cause slowdown at West Coast ports

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) – Just when it seemed like things were back to normal at the Port of Oakland, a new labor issue could cause another slow down or even bring things to a stop.

On Monday a few hundred independent truckers struck the Port of Los Angeles, hoping more truckers will join future stoppages.

But with 16,000 truckers serving southern California ports, there was little or no effect - yet.

Nonetheless, many of Oakland's 9,000 port truckers are looking to southern California Monday with what they hope is the start of a movement.

The small band of L.A. truckers wants recognition as employees with rights and benefits - not as independent contractors.

"There's hundreds of cases pending in California on this and of the 56 cases that have been adjudicated so far, the drivers have won every one of those cases," says Ken Jacobs, Chairman of UC Berkeley's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

With the support of the powerful Teamsters Union, the often poorly paid truckers, mean to get better pay, benefits and work conditions for 50,000 port truckers including the 9,000 here in Oakland.

"The driver is at the bottom of the pyramid," says James Frances, a long time port trucker.

Frances says he's retiring in disgust due to a decade of stagnant wages, ever rising costs and increasing port congestion that limits the number of loads he can haul in a day.

"Maybe $225 a load and you've got to wait sometimes five hours for that load, then it takes you another six hours to take it where it's got to go. Right? And, you gotta bring it back and that's another six hours so you're working all that time for $225," says Frances.

The fact is, neither the port, nor the shippers, nor the terminal operators, nor even the Longshoremen can accomplish anything without the truck drivers.

The problem is, the truck drivers are the least organized force at the port.

"They've seen what the Longshoremen were able to gain with concerted action," says renowned UC Berkeley Professor of Labor Harley Shaiken. "I think we've really reached a turning point on this," adds Professor Jacobs.

"If you eat it, wear it or use it, we bring it and after two weeks, you'd all be using leaves for toilet paper," says port trucker Frances.

After his expenses, but before taxes he says he made $41,000 last year. There is already a severe shortage of truckers willing to work the ports.