The Seattle Port Commission Thursday voted to oppose a bill before the Washington State Legislature that would require the port to employ drayage truck drivers.
The intent of the bill is to make it easier for unions such as the Teamsters to organize harbor truck drivers in Seattle by making them employees. In Seattle, as in other U.S. ports, most of the drivers are classified as owner-operators. Unions, by law, cannot organize independent contractors.
Port commissioners voted to oppose the legislation, known as House Bill 1719, because it would put Seattle at a disadvantage in competition with other West Coast container ports, none of which face such requirements, said Jason Kelly, the port’s corporate media officer.
Change to Win, a coalition of community-based organizations, faith-based groups and organized labor, supports the legislation. The coalition views it as a first step toward improving economic and working conditions for harbor port drivers, who are generally considered to be at the lower end of the maritime industry pay scale, said Paul Marvy, an attorney and researcher at Change to Win.
Marvy said the structure of the proposed legislation seeks to avoid the legal issues involved in a previous Teamsters’ attempt to foster unionization of owner-operators in Los Angeles.
After a three-year-long battle over a suit filed by the American Trucking Associations against the Port of Los Angeles, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2011 that the port violated federal pre-emption law by attempting to mandate that private sector harbor drayage companies must hire employee drivers in order to operate at the port.
In this case, the Port of Seattle would actually employ the drivers, Marvy indicated.
However, ports, especially landlord ports such as Seattle, are not in the business of moving cargo. This would be a new direction for a port authority. Marvy said Seattle could choose a variety of options, such as setting up a driver hiring hall or employing drivers directly.
The proposed bill in the state Legislature limits the requirement to Seattle as it specifies the bill pertains to a metropolitan area with a population of 1 million or more. The Port of Tacoma metropolitan area is less than 1 million population. Marvy said the bill recognizes certain political dynamics in the region.
The Washington Trucking Association opposes the bill. The association also opposed an attempt by the Teamsters last year to promote a bill that would lead to the use of employee drivers. Jim Dutton, vice president, said the trucking association would follow the progress of the current legislation and offer its comments when appropriate.
The Teamsters in recent years have been involved in programs at a number of ports with the intention of organizing the many thousands of truck drivers that are now classified as independent contractors.
They failed in those attempts, but they were successful last year in organizing drivers at the Toll Group in Southern California. However, those drivers are direct employees of Toll.