Trucker Hullabaloo
Peter Ford
Reuben Lopez
Scott Dailey
Jim DeMaegt
Oh, Say Can You Sea: Friend or Foe?
Trucker Hullabaloo: the 360 Degree View
Fun and Games with Depreciation
Introducing Alan Leon
Introducing Monique Meyer
Snag at Skaggs
Reminder to Bridge Users: Toll Rises to $3 on July 1
Vallejo is Jazzin’ It Up At 11th Annual Jazz Festival
The Mighty Quinn’s
Belvedere Names Citizens of the Year
Oakland International
Cross-Airport Parkway
Opens in Alameda
Cuisine: ThirstyBear Spanish Seared Ahi
The WaterBarge: A Pearl in Vallejo’s Oyster
Golden Gate to Study New Docks
Tallship Arrives in July
WTA Pages
Bay Crossings Bay Round Up
Cultivating the Educational Landscape
Summertime Fun
The Mighty Quinn’s
Once in a Blue Moon
New Golden Gate Ferry Schedules Effective July 1, 2004
Education is in Season at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market

Trucker Hullabaloo: the 360 Degree View

Four Protagonists Discuss the Controversy Concerning Independent Truckers Working at the Port of Oakland and Other Seaports Around the Country

Peter Ford General Manager, Maersk

Bay Crossings: What’s going on between the truckers and you at the Port of Oakland?
PETER FORD: Right now, there’s nothing going on. We had an issue—they had some issues—about a month ago, that wound up with a large protest in front of all of the terminals here at the Port of Oakland, resulting in a temporary restraining order to keep them from out front, causing a disruption to commerce and to the safety of people coming in and out. Recently I heard there’s some rumors of some actions starting up in July, but nothing is confirmed at this point, at least on my side.

BC: The truckers feel very badly used. They feel that the terminal operators, which I guess means you, are parsimonious with them. Any truth to that?
PF: Well, here’s an actually pretty common misconception: the terminal operators have nothing to do with the contracting of truckers, or owner/operators, or even trucking companies. The people who contract the trucking are brokers, sometimes the steamship lines, but mostly brokers acting on behalf of consignees or shippers. The problem comes down to economics; it’s supply and demand; too many truckers for not enough business.

BC: What’s going to happen with this situation of the Port being threatened with a shutdown?
PF: I say allow the market to drive the excess owner/operators out. If you can’t make a living at a job, theoretically then you would find another job. And the market would then regulate itself by having the right amount of supply for the right amount of demand.

BC: The truckers allege that you’re being a bit disingenuous; that, in fact, you guys are very involved, even to the point of not allowing truckers to so much as speak with each other about rates. Is there any truth to this?
PF: Well, no. It’s the antitrust laws that prevent them from speaking to each other about rates. For them to get together and set rates among themselves would be a violation of that. We don’t punish people for speaking out. We want to speak out, too, against what ended up happening in front of my facility and that was violence. A lot of people throwing rocks, acting threatening, creating fear in other truckers that needed to go to work because they had families to support.

BC: Truckers say you set fees arbitrarily, and that you have been rapidly escalating them.
PF: But they haven’t been escalated. I take that back: fees have been escalated, specifically demurrage (akin to late fees charged by libraries for late books, but in this case applying to empty containers). But that is actually as a direct result of congestion, and it’s mostly in the Pacific Southwest and Los Angeles. The Port authorities want to reduce congestion and they’ve made it more expensive for containers to just sit around.
As to the arbitrary part, the Wal-Marts of the world, the huge shippers, certainly can negotiate contracts with the shipping lines to get them more free time than is usually allotted. That’s a business decision whether or not to offer those types of incentives for the guys who ship hundreds of thousands of containers with APL, or Maersk, or whoever the case may be.

BC: Wouldn’t an average Joe sitting having a beer feel it’s heavy-handed to not allow minimum-wage immigrant truckers to discuss rates with each other?
PF: I certainly have sympathy for them. You know, it is not an easy living. You say heavy-handed, but it’s not the shipping lines, terminal operators, shippers, or brokers that say they can’t; it’s the law.

BC: But do you think when the antitrust laws were passed lawmakers had in mind guys driving a truck?
PF: Let’s take it to the other extreme. Do you want every supermarket to be able to sit down and discuss what rates they are going to charge for beef, for milk, or whatever they can?

We want a better situation. What I see is a market that has a super low barrier to entry to becoming a trucker. For $2,500 you can pick up a truck right now, and you’re in business. There’s a very low barrier to entry. And there’s a huge amount of over-supply of labor for the available work. In my perfect world, we would wind up with trucks that have environmentally-friendly low sulfur burning engines, trucks that would create a lot less pollution than what we have now. Obviously, these would cost us much more money.

Terminal operators have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars retrofitting our truck fleet to burn low sulfur diesel and it absolutely aggravates me to no end when I see lines of ancient trucks outside my facility messing up the same air that I have just spent a bunch of dollars on trying to clean up.

BC: So you’d be willing to pay, so long as the trucks were environmentally friendly and there were a stable, smaller market of trucks?

PF: I don’t want to say that I want to pay more. We should pay the market rate. And unfortunately, right now, the market rate is ridiculously low and I don’t think it’s sustainable. At this level, it isn’t enough to support the trucker’s families.

Now having said that, while we’re on the way to working all this out, there will be work actions. To not come to work is absolutely well within anyone’s right but it’s also anyone’s right if they want to come to work. Where it went the last time this happened—threatening families, throwing rocks, destroying property—is not acceptable.

BC: You have to say that because you’re in management. But how would a strike action be effective otherwise? What would you say to the guys that organized the Boston Tea Party?
PF: But, this isn’t a strike. The truckers are not an organized bargaining unit. An organized bargaining means a union, set union rules, a strike fund. We want to be fair, but it’s never okay to be violent.



Reuben Lopez, Independent Trucker

Bay Crossings: You’re a trucker and being sued by the Port of Oakland. Why?
Ruben Lopez: We all got into a strike, which I didn’t know until a few days before the strike. We all got together in front of APL (American President Lines). While we were out there, we figured that we needed some kind of representation for everybody, to represent and negotiate with the Port. I stepped forward for my Latino community and we all went to the Port looking for all our demands. Then all of a sudden, we found out that what they were doing was more than just negotiating. The Port had demands, too.

BC: What were the things that you wanted to negotiate with the Port? What are you unhappy about?
RL: Well, there were a whole bunch of things, starting with the bad service at the terminal. Supposedly there would be no more than 30 minutes to wait in line to get through a gate, and sometimes they do that, but once you get inside the gate, it could take more than one or two hours. Some of us came at the fuel surcharges. So we put all those things in a flyer, and then those were the demands that came out of the whole group.

BC: Tell me about the life of a trucker. You’re talking to me now on a cell phone from the cab of your truck while waiting at the docks for a container. What does your week look like?
RL: That’s something we don’t know, usually. We start Monday, and hopefully we will make enough to pay our bills. Sometimes you make good money, and when I say good money, I mean enough to pay your bills. But sometimes you spend more than what you made during the week. I just took a load out to American Canyon. I started at 6:00 today. Hopefully I’ll be out of here around 11:30 or 12:00, so that will be between $120 to $150. That gives you an idea of how much money we make. And that will be for myself, for the truck, for fuel, for the insurance, and all the other expenses that we deal with for the truck.

BC: Is it true that the shipping companies don’t want you talking with other truckers about how much you get paid?
RL: Yes. They said it’s an antitrust, and that’s against the law—to talk about how much money we make. Because we are all independents, and we all belong to our own companies, supposedly.

BC: Do truckers get paid more or less for doing the same thing?
RL: Yes.

BC: Now why would somebody get paid more than you for doing the same thing?
RL: That’s a good question. From company to company there is a difference on rates.

BC: Have you experienced punishment as a result of this work you have done to help the other truckers?
RL: The only bad experience that I had is the suit that I got from the Port of Oakland, which we got just by going into their building and negotiating a good fee. We never thought that we were going to get sued. In fact, what we were trying to do is get the boys out of striking, we were working in good faith.

BC: The Port says you guys wouldn’t stick to the deal you made, that you kept changing it.
RL: Let me explain. They have to understand. I came out of the whole crowd, and there are those who believe that I’m a leader, or I have the power to manage every single person in the Port, or people who work from other terminals. I’m not a leader; I came out of the crowd. And the only reason I was there was just to speak for the Latino people.

When they asked me if I could control the crowd, and tell them not to do this or that, I said, “Well, I will bring this over to them and I’m sure they are going to hear what I said; but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop everybody from doing what they’re doing.” There was no organization at all back then. There was just a whole crowd of people that came out of nowhere. In fact, if you asked me how many people I knew from the crowd, I would tell you probably not even 1 percent of them. We see each other driving around inside the terminals, but we don’t know anything about them—like names, or anything like that.

But nothing, nothing was planned. This came out of nowhere. We came up and went to the Port. They asked us what we were looking for. We said, “This right here.” We gave him the flyer. And he said, “Well, somebody’s going to have to negotiate. Who do we talk to?” And I said, “The whole crowd.” They said, “No. You guys need to get organized. You guys need to get one or two.” So I became the person who can talk and negotiate about this whole thing.

That’s how the whole idea came out. And the only reason we got an Indian, a black man, and me was because I don’t speak the different languages. I do speak English, a little bit, and also Spanish, which is my language. That’s why we kind of did it that way, not even thinking that they were going to get this and turn it around, and be against us.

BC: There’s talk about another strike coming up on the 28th. What’s the mood with the truckers?
RL: They are really pissed off. Because at first, the Port promised some things. They said, “Well, we haven’t got anything.” We’ve been getting promises from everybody for a long time, and they never get done. Then I got the suit. I told them, “I’m in between right now. It’s up to you guys—but I’m leaving.” I was getting phone calls, letting me know that I was sued, saying that they wanted me to get back into the crowd. Those were the little things that they put in papers, that somehow I was leading the whole thing which is not the truth.

BC: The shipping companies say the problem isn’t with them, but with the trucking companies. For example, they say they pay fuel surcharges to the trucking companies that don’t get passed on to you.

RL: That’s a good question. That’s the answer we never get. If you talk to the companies, they will tell you one thing. But if you talk to the steamship lines, they will tell you another thing. There is a big missing thing between the companies and the steamship lines. The steamship lines tell you that they could pay the fuel surcharge, that they do pay good. Once you begin to talk to the companies, they give you a totally different answer: that they are not getting paid enough money; that they don’t get the fuel surcharge most of the time; that they have been getting squeezed.

BC: The shipping companies say there are too many truckers and that the problem is one of supply and demand. The trucking companies say there aren’t enough drivers, that they have trouble finding drivers. Who’s right?
RL: There are too many truck companies and not enough truck drivers. What the trucking companies do is they underbid. There should be fewer trucking companies, and they should be held to higher standards. Some of those companies think that they have the right to do whatever they want. Once you get into a negotiation with them, this is what they say: “Well, if you don’t like my company, just go ahead and look for another one. I mean, I don’t force you to be here.” But for me to get another company, it takes one or two weeks before they check all the paperwork. And you still have bills to pay. We have a house payment, most of us.

Everybody’s pissed off. If you talk to truck drivers down here, you can see them. They are the normal truck drivers, driving around, but they’re not happy at all. That’s why they—as soon as somebody calls up for a strike; one single person can say, okay, let’s go on strike—everybody joins that person and goes back on strike.

Editor’s note: As Bay Crossings went to press, the Port of Oakland was in talks with the truckers to drop their lawsuit against Rueben Lopez and the other truckers.



Scott Dailey, Director of Corporate Communications, APL Limited

Bay Crossings: About this brouhaha going on about the truckers; they say they are very underpaid and badly treated by you all. Your reaction?
SCOTT DAILEY: We’re not really a party to the discussion. We hire trucking companies to do our drayage. (“drayage” is industry jargon for hauling). And the trucking companies, in turn, hire the independent owner/operators. Those are guys who either own or lease a rig, and they are independent business people. They, in turn, work for the trucking companies. So the amount that the drivers get paid is a contractual agreement between themselves and the trucking companies. Since we contract with the trucking companies, we don’t directly have any business relationship with the drivers.

BC: What the truckers say is that the shipping companies are very much involved and that, indeed, you play hardball. In fact, they say you threaten them with lawsuits if they even so much as talk to each other about the rates. True?
SD: Keep in mind that we don’t hire the drivers directly. But I can point out that they exist in a competitive marketplace with the trucking companies. They offer their services as independent business people with the trucking companies. But they come to an agreement and, likewise, the trucking companies and we come to an agreement about what we will pay the companies.

BC: It’s clearly not a good situation, because there are wildcat strikes. There’s another one threatened for a week-long period of time this time—on June 28th. What do you think needs to be done?
SD: I think that if the drivers are unhappy, they need to discuss individually with the trucking companies that hire them. It’s just like, you own your newspaper. If you don’t like what your advertisers are paying, you go to them and try to get an increase in the advertising rates. And that’s the situation with the truckers and the trucking companies.

We do care that the truckers are treated fairly and properly compensated. In fact, the Journal of Commerce did a survey and we came out on top. We have been paying a fuel surcharge, something that maybe the drivers have conveniently forgotten to mention. Now, we pay that to the trucking companies. We rely on them to pass it on. If they are not passing it on, that’s a different issue.

BC: The truckers say they are made to wait in endless lines for no pay, sometimes as long as eight hours.
SD: As far as I’m aware, we don’t have eight-hour lines at our terminal. Every terminal is different. We have an appointment system at our terminal; you can come right in. Yet our appointment gate’s very little used. If they have an appointment, they can come right in.



Jim DeMaegt, Activist

Bay Crossings: Could you set the stage for us, what’s the issue with the truckers, what’s their gripe?
Jim Demaegt: It really goes back to President Reagan’s deregulation in the 80s. There’s probably ten drivers for every job, and the amount of compensation goes down, down, down, down. Truckers now own their own trucks, well, the banks actually own them—but even on a good day they may make just a tiny bit of money. Often, they actually lose money. They’re desperate.

And getting more so, and that brings on wildcat strikes. The latest big spike in diesel fuel brought on an unplanned, uncoordinated shutdown of virtually every port in Los Angeles. The California Chamber of Commerce estimates that on April 30, 85% of the Port trucking business was shut down. I believe in Oakland they started the next day, and shut down for several days after that. The truckers want to unionize; they want to get a living wage, which is basically what this is all about.

BC: Who are these truckers?
JD: They are all sorts of people. In Los Angeles, there’s approximately 10,000 port truckers; by port truckers, we mean people who haul from the various harbors here. You can call them the Long Beach Harbor, the Wilmington Harbor, San Pedro—but they are all kind of connected. In L.A., they are almost all Latino; I would say over 90%, from El Salvador, Mexico, people who have been in the United States, even born here—but from Latino or Spanish-American, Mexican heritage. In Oakland, the ethnic mix is quite different.

BC: And whom do they work with, whom are they unhappy with?
JD: You have shipping companies, and then you have brokers and trucking companies. They supposedly contract with independent contractor truckers. The problem is that the shippers very often either own or dominate, totally and completely, the brokers and trucking companies. Often, they totally dominate the terms. When they say, “Take this contract or leave it,” there’s no bargaining. If they are going to dictate the terms of the employment like this, then truckers are employees and deserve the rights and privileges of being an employee.

BC: The shipping companies and terminal operators I’ve talked with say they have no dog in this fight, that the truckers’ problem is with the trucking companies. Are you saying that this is disingenuous?
JD: Yes. What happens is a kind of disappearing act. Whenever you try to find out a responsible party, the shipping lines will say they’re not responsible. And the truckers say, “Well, we’re just contractors for the shipping lines.” So there’s really nobody to deal with. At this point, what needs to happen is, the truckers just need to be organized. Frankly, they could be organized either as an independent association, which I don’t approve of, or they can form a union. They could join an existing union.

BC: Weren’t these docks entirely union at one time?
JD: That was before deregulation. Reagan’s deregulation had the effect of ending the Teamsters’ primacy. Non-union companies came in and took all the business from them. So once those union companies lost the business, the trucking—the port truckers—were no longer unionized.

But these are exciting times and there’s hope because of these general unorganized, unled calls for a harbor shutdown. Even though there may be ten drivers for every job, just when the call went out, “Do not haul,” L.A. harbor was totally and completely shut down. Nobody scabbed. That was not an issue of force, because who would have the force to do it? It might have been the case when 99% didn’t run, and one trucker began to run—there might have been a little coercion used against them. I don’t necessarily approve of that.

However, in general, it was just a total agreement. Even though somebody could say, “I’m going to make a lot of money. I’m going to go out and rent ten trucks and go haul on this day, and charge double,” nobody did. I think that’s amazing. The problem right now may be the lack of a plan. Since there’s no centralization—and apparently the teamsters are not moving forward to help.

BC: Why not? If not the Teamsters, why not the longshoremen? Or any other union.
JD: The longshoremen don’t have jurisdiction. I think the longshoremen have been quite friendly and helpful, but they don’t have jurisdiction to unionize the truckers. The AFL-CIO has said Teamsters is the only union that has jurisdiction, but the Teamsters has not moved on this issue.

BC: How likely do you think more Port shutdowns in the near future are?
JD: I think there’s a 98% chance on the week of June 28th through July whatever, depending on how long it lasts: maybe the 7th, maybe it will only go to the 4th. There’s going to be a nationwide action. It’s going to be big in L.A.