Joe Lozano bid goodbye to port drayage work in February after seven years of hauling containers to and from New York-New Jersey marine terminals. He hasn’t regretted his decision.
“I earned more in one month working on my own than I did in three years working on the piers,” said Lozano, who went into business as an owner-operator hauling domestic less-than-truckload freight.
Lozano, 34, said he abandoned port drayage because he saw an opportunity to make a better living for his family. But he said other factors also influenced his decision.
He said he tired of needlessly long waits at terminals that made it difficult to show a profit, and of surly treatment by unionized longshore personnel “who have no regard for drivers’ time.”
Those are near-universal complaints by New York-New Jersey port drivers, most of whom are owner-operators paid by the trip. The port may represent the first wave in a developing shortage of port drayage drivers, motor carriers warn.
Though no statistics are available, New York-New Jersey motor carriers say delays and hassles at terminals are making it difficult to hire and retain drivers. They say many drivers willing to work the piers have poor safety scores under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Accountability and Safety rules.
Some drivers are accepting assignments to rail ramps but refusing to haul containers to and from congested marine terminals. Others are using their commercial driver’s licenses to haul domestic freight or garbage instead of port containers.
Lozano spent four years as a company driver for a port motor carrier and the last three as an owner-operator. Although the port’s recent congestion has been unusually severe, he said long queues and slow turn times have been chronic.
Optical character recognition and other technology makes it possible for terminals to handle rising volume without lengthy truck turns, but terminals’ longshoremen and checkers show little urgency to move trucks in and out quickly, Lozano said.
“The piers are set up to let you get in and out in less than an hour, but they make you take longer,” he said. “They know they’re not going to get yelled at by a supervisor like someone who is non-union. They’ll hold you for long periods of time. Therefore, you don’t make any money. When you approach someone to ask for help or how to do things, you get no respect at all. When you approach a checker in a pickup truck, sometimes they ignore you and don’t even open the window.”
International Longshoremen’s Association officials insist they’re sensitive to drayage drivers’ needs and that they work to help drivers get in and out of terminals quickly.
Dennis Daggett, president of the ILA’s Atlantic Coast District, said the union is in “full solidarity” with port drivers, and said much of the friction between them and the ILA stems from longshore labor shortages that he blamed on the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.