LA-Long Beach truckers protest fuel costs

LA-Long Beach truckers protest fuel costs

LOS ANGELES -- Truck drivers at the Port of Long Beach planned to protest the high cost of diesel fuel and the refusal of some shipping lines to pay for fuel increases.

The Teamsters union distributed flyers in support of the noon rally, leaving open the possibility that the protest could spread to other ports and possibly intermodal rail ramps.

A second protest is planned from 9-10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Port of Los Angeles.

California's strict emissions requirements mean truckers there pay more for diesel fuel, about $2.35 per gallon in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area compared to $1.75 in much of the U.S.

Trucking industry representatives say independent drivers that handle most of the harbor traffic are hurt by the refusal of some ocean carriers to pay compensatory fuel surcharges when the cost of diesel fuel increases.

"We can't pass on the higher cost of fuel so the drivers can't make a living," said Stephanie Williams, vice president of the California Trucking Association. Williams said she will testify before the California Assembly Transportation Committee on Wednesday to tell legislators of how some ocean carriers refuse to pay fuel surcharges even as they regularly assess importers and exporters who book cargo on their vessels.

The willingness of carriers to pay surcharges varies from line to line, Williams said, while some lines require shippers to put fuel surcharge requests in writing, then delay payment for a month or longer even as diesel prices continue to climb.

Some carriers readily pay diesel fuel surcharges in order to ensure there are enough drivers to move their cargo inland. Orient Overseas Container Line considers harbor truckers to be a key vendor, so last week it increased the fuel surcharge it pays to truckers, said M.K. Wong, director of marketing.

Some trucking companies file a diesel fuel surcharge schedule with the shipping lines. For example, if the price of diesel fuel reaches $1.37 to $1.44, the surcharge is two percent. If the price of diesel is $2.34 to $2.41, the surcharge is 12 percent.

When shipping lines refuse to pay the surcharge, some trucking companies bill the importers and exporters directly. Others, however, hesitate to bill large shippers and retailers for fear of losing their business. Some truckers ask the shippers to pressure the ocean carriers to pay the diesel surcharges.

The trucker protests come at a pivotal time for the industry as container volumes are already beginning to climb, with ports in March reporting a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in imports. Also, rail congestion in Canada and along some routes in the U.S. are compounding inland transportation problems.