Some operations at the Port of Seattle are feeling the impact of a push by harbor truck drivers for changes in their pay and positions.
Officials say some marine terminals at the port of Seattle saw driver shortages over the past week amid complaints from drivers that trucking companies are paying them below market rates. At the same time, other drivers were not working because they went to the state capitol in Olympia, where the Washington State Legislature has been holding hearings on two bills that will have a direct impact on harbor drayage.
One bill would classify the independent-contractor drivers as employees, which would allow them the legal right to join a union. The second bill would clarify the handling of chassis that are not properly maintained.
Both developments have created spot shortages of drivers in the harbor. The Teamsters union supports the drivers in both instances, seeing the developments as furthering the union’s attempt to organize harbor truck drivers in Puget Sound.
The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, an advocacy group affiliated with the Teamsters, released a statement Wednesday saying the drivers had shut down the Port of Seattle. Although there were container backlogs at some terminals, the port was not shut down.
“Seattle has been open and operating all week,” port spokesman Peter McGraw said on Friday.
Drivers at several trucking companies that haul containers between the port and intermodal rail yards are refusing loads because they charge the companies they contract with are paying them less than the market rate in the harbor area.
Harbor trucking companies normally negotiate a drayage rate with shipping lines or cargo interests. The general practice is for the trucking company to keep a percentage of the rate and then pass the rest on to the drivers. In this instance, drivers say some motor carriers are retaining a higher percentage of the drayage rate than is customary in Puget Sound.
Washington Trucking Association spokesman Jim Dutton said it appears two or three motor carriers that dray containers to intermodal rail facilities have been targeted.
TJ Michels, a spokeswoman for Change to Win, a Teamsters-affiliated organization, said the intermodal pay issue is the latest in a series of incidents that have plagued harbor truck drivers in the Pacific Northwest. Many drivers in the region charge that the harbor drayage system is in need of an overhaul, she said.