The Teamsters union Monday ramped up its organizing efforts among port drivers in Seattle with a rally for owner-operators in the harbor area, but the event reportedly had minimal impact on drayage services at the port.
Independent contractor drivers in Seattle have been demonstrating for several weeks, which has led to spot trucking shortages in the harbor. Some drivers have taken off from work to attend hearings in Olympia, the state capital, on legislation that would classify drivers as employees of harbor trucking companies.
The Teamsters last year implemented a similar strategy in California. Also, they continue to support national legislation that would allow ports to ban owner-operators in favor of having an employee driver force. Independent contractors, by law, can not be organized, but it is legal for unions to organize employee drivers.
The impact of Monday’s rally was minimal because some of the marine terminals were closed in observance of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, which is a paid holiday for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Longshoremen who choose to work are paid overtime, so some of the terminal operators decided not to open on Monday.
Terminal 46 was working, however, and port spokesman Peter McGraw said it appeared that the facility was getting normal truck service.Seattle port officials are concerned that continued demonstrations and driver shortages could lead to cargo diversion. Port representatives are working with the newly formed Seattle Port Truckers Association and the port community to address driver grievances.
The association is seeking a harbor-wide revenue split of 80 percent/20 percent for drayage service between marine terminals and intermodal rail yards. Some trucking companies pass on to drivers less than 80 percent of the intermodal drayage rate, which is considered the market rate in the Pacific Northwest.
The drivers’ association has issued other demands such as pay for waiting times at marine terminals, government-approved restroom facilities at trucking company yards and an end to company retaliation when drivers take time off to attend legislative hearings in Olympia.
The bill that would ban independent contractor drivers was approved by a House in Olympia and will now be taken up by the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, said Jim Dutton, vice president of the Washington Trucking Association.
That legislation has attracted national attention. The Waterfront Coalition, whose members are mostly retailers and other cargo interests, said in a letter to the Washington Legislature that most drivers "choose to operate as independents and not as employees of a trucking company for their own economic and personal reasons.”