Port of Oakland Truckers Association (POTA) board members are once again headed into talks with Oakland city officials today, to discuss funding for mandatory truck upgrades that are putting 800 port jobs on the line. Deputy Mayor Sandré Swanson called the meeting just an hour and a half in advance of the 5pm Friday deadline truckers set last week, when they also unanimously voted for what amounts to a strike authorization.
“This is a big meeting for us, I hope it’s not just one more day for them to play with us,” said POTA board member Jorge Esparza.
With 800 jobs at risk, and many truckers applying for microloans to pay loan payments on upgraded trucks just to keep working, the stakes are high for Oakland’s Port Truckers, who have engaged in 3 work stoppages since August. “These truckers are paying so much money and taking on so much debt, just to keep working,” said Elizabeth Flynn, community activist and POTA supporter, “it is essentially indentured servitude.”
During negotiations last week, representatives of POTA requested an extension of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) January 1 deadline to acquire trucks built in 2007 or later in order to continue working at the port. In addition, they requested grant funding to help 800 at-risk truckers offset the financial burden of costly truck upgrades required by current law. These requests were denied by CARB, which still has grant funding and low-interest loans for truckers who agree to stop working at the Port of Oakland and take longer trips out of town instead. For drivers who live in the Bay Area and need to stay close to their families, an offer to work in Fresno and elsewhere was impossible to accept. CARB refused to reallocate any of the funding to keep Oakland drivers working in Oakland. Before the meeting ended, Mayor Quan and Director Chris Lytle claimed they would take a look into port and city finances to find funding for POTA truckers.
Truckers will meet tonight to discuss whatever offer, if any, comes from the City and Port of Oakland and decide on further steps. “People are ready to take action. We hate to do that, especially this time of year, but the drivers need a merry Christmas too,” said Esparza.
Following a meeting last Wednesday with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the Port of Oakland Truckers Association (POTA) convened a general membership meeting and voted unanimously for what amounts to a strike authorization if their demands aren’t met.
During the meeting, which included Mayor Jean Quan, Deputy Mayor Sandré Swanson, and Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle, a group of activists and community members held a solidarity demonstration in front of City Hall while a near deafening convoy of over 70 port truckers circled Frank Ogawa Plaza in support of their representatives. Truckers honked their horns and community members engaged in a sympathetic noise demonstration for over an hour. Some of the signs on the trucks read “We Want Fair Rates and Respect” and “We Need to Work For the Future of Our Kids.”
“Oakland and the state of California cannot afford to lose 800 jobs. If this were Google or Yahoo laying off 800 workers, it would make national news,” said Frank Adams, a POTA board member.
During negotiations, representatives of POTA pushed for an extension of the CARB-enforced January 1 deadline to acquire trucks built in 2007 or later in order to continue working at the port. In addition, they requested grant funding to help 800 at-risk truckers offset the financial burden of costly truck upgrades required by current law. CARB denied these requests and claimed the deadline could not be extended and available monies had already been reallocated. Before the meeting ended, Mayor Quan and Director Chris Lytle claimed they would take a look into port and city finances to find funding for POTA truckers.
To encourage efficiency at the port, POTA demands include a congestion fee of $50 per hour after the first two hours truckers spend waiting in line to pick up a load. The association is also asking for an emissions fee of $50 per load for all Port of Oakland truck drivers to help offset the costs of buying and maintaining CARB-compliant trucks. Finally, the association is demanding transparency in CARB’s relationship with the Port of Oakland, specifically in the enforcement of regulations outlining minimum efficiency of terminal operation.
POTA representatives have made it clear they expect response on funding from city and port officials by Wednesday, November 20. If they are denied funding again, a work stoppage may take place as early as next week. The group has organized two prior work stoppages since August of 2013.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013– After a brief conference on the steps of City Hall, Port of Oakland Truckers Association (POTA) board members entered into a meeting with Mayor Jean Quan, Deputy Mayor Sandre Swanson, Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle, California Air Resource Board member Cynthia Martin, and representatives from Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
Outside, a group of about 35 activists and community members rallied loudly to support them inside. Even this small group was loud enough to disrupt the meeting. Reportedly, Mayor Quan requested the POTA board members persuade the demonstrators to be quiet.
“That’s the community out there supporting us, I can’t tell them what to do. They are just here to make sure everyone in this room knows we have their support,” said Frank Adams, POTA board member.
According to truckers inside the meeting, Mayor Quan said that she would have the demonstrators cleared by police if they did not pipe down, however after 15 minutes, a loud droning sound could be heard in the distance.
An activist spoke over the noisy crowd on a bullhorn, “Everybody stop for a second. Listen, can you hear that hum? That’s the truckers. They’re coming.”
Within minutes big rigs with hand painted signs were lining up and down 14th Street in front of City Hall. Over 70 in all, they wrapped around the block, honking their air horns and waving to activists and passersby alike. For over an hour, they circled the block, until two trucks were pulled over by police. Officers attempted to cite the truckers and placed one under arrest, but the demonstrators and many bystanders swarmed around the police chanting, “Trash the ticket!” and “Let them go!” Police called for backup and a 15 year old trucker’s daughter took the mic. “My dad is on these lines! Are you going to arrest my dad? Are you going to take his job? Both my parents work full time and can’t make a living wage. They’re trying to make a better life for me!” One officer was driven to tears by the courage of this young woman. (video below)
Eventually, the police tore up the tickets and sent the two truckers on their way, with the crowd cheering behind them. Demonstrators returned to Oscar Grant Plaza to continue cheering on the truckers, who made one final round. The trucker who was threatened with arrest made one last pass by the crowd, honking wildly and gesturing his thanks for their support, before returning to work at the Port of Oakland.
People in Chinatown and as far away as 34th Street reported hearing the truck convoy, which drew dozens of bystanders who gathered, cheering the truckers and asking demonstrators for information on their struggle.
One demonstrator, who had not previously been to an action with the port truckers said, “Now I understand why people find these truckers so inspiring!” Another said, “I think my expectations of noise demos have changed forever.”
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 13 – 11:30 AM, OAKLAND CITY HALL
Bring pots and pans, whistles, or whatever your favorite noisemakers are, and join the Port Truckers as they make noise at city hall while some are inside meeting with California Air Resources Board. This is the body that is able to grant some of the demands of the Truckers, including an extension on truck upgrades and grant funding to compensate the cost of upgrades. They had refused to meet with the truckers until the port action in October.
While a few if them are in the meeting with CARB, port and city officials, the truckers want to let them know that there is LOTS of support for them outside!!
By Scott Jay and Barucha Peller
originally published on Counterpunch.org
On Monday, October 20th, truckers at the Port of Oakland protested their deteriorating working conditions by withdrawing their labor and shutting down the terminals for the second time this year. These truckers, who are mostly Latin American, Asian, and African immigrants, are among the most marginalized workers at the Oakland seaport, the nation’s seventh busiest container terminal, and an export hub for California’s massive Central Valley agribusiness industry. The trucker’s struggle is ongoing and another shutdown looms in the upcoming weeks.
What is historic about this struggle is the truckers’ capacity for self-organization despite language barriers in a socially splintered work place with at times violent conditions. It would seem that everything is against the port truckers–there are 5,000 truckers on the port of Oakland. They are classified as owner-operators rather than employees, and they are not protected by labor laws, or allowed to form a union. They have no support from Oakland’s political leaders or institutions, and encounter severe racism on the port everyday. Two of the truckers have been hit with temporary restraining orders for their organizing efforts along with “Does 1 through 2000.” Despite all this, the militancy of the Oakland port truckers has only grown.
“If our demands aren’t met, the truckers are going to have to decide what to do,” said Oakland port trucker Frank Adams a week following the October 20th shutdown. “But I think we will be out protesting and shutting down the port again.”
Truckers Strike and the Shutdown Begins
With the odds stacked against them, the truckers realized that the only way they would be heard is by asserting economic pressure on the port, and against the companies that operate there. Coinciding with the Bay Area Rapid Transit train system employees strike, truckers voted on a Friday afternoon in late October to strike and shut down the port the following Monday.
Before dawn broke on Monday October 21, truckers speaking Spanish, Punjabi, Mandarin and various African languages, held handmade signs reading “Don’t kill my future, I have kids,” and “ILWU thanks for your support,” referring to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that represents thousands of port workers on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii. They were joined by activist supporters in establishing pickets at the notorious SSA terminal, known amongst truckers as the most abusive terminal with the worst conditions. SSA’s terminal was also a favorite target of the Occupy movement as Goldman Sachs is 49 percent owner. Additional pickets were established at Ports America and the TraPac terminal, where truckers were joined with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.
Typically, pickets like these establish a health and safety violation which the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members are not legally required cross. For the Longshoremen, conflicts between the Oakland police and protesters are a safety hazard–many have a clear memory of the Oakland police pulverizing workers and activists with rubber bullets in 2003 during a protest against the Iraq war. However, on October 20th an arbitrator ruled that the truckers picket line was not a health and safety violation–after a heavy oakland police presence broke up the pickets with new “Urban Shield” techniques, using billy clubs to hit and even throw protesters to the ground. And yet the morning pickets were still a success in shutting down the port because ILWU Local 10 members went home after seeing the police and protester presence. Truckers refused to take work for the day, and ILWU Local 34 members, representing clerks, pulled out their members in spite of the arbitrator ruling.
“The impact on SSA terminal was catastrophic,” Adams says of the largest terminal at the port which sat idle while a vessel was docked there. “No business went through the terminal at all and they lost a lot of money.”
Solidarity, Arbitration, and Betrayal
As the evening shift approached, truckers and their supporters were in high spirits after the morning victory. That changed soon after a sixty person picket was set up at the SSA terminal. An ILWU Local 10 business agent drove his car straight into the line and attempted to forcefully cross. When the pickets refused to move, he exited his car and was joined by Local 10 President Mike Villeggiante, who began yelling at truckers and their supporters that his members were going to work that shift.
“I don’t see a picket line here,” Villeggiante screamed, red-faced. “What union are you in?” he demanded, mocking the non-unionized truckers’ organizing efforts while threatening to beat up their supporters.
Overall, the ILWU members were supportive throughout the truckers’ actions, and their president’s position was an anomaly compared to the attitude of the rank and file. Typically, the ILWU does not have to take sides in an arbitration ruling against a picket line, and they do not need to cooperate with the police in clearing it. By driving their car into an established picket line, however, the president of Local 10 and the business agent gave the police a justification to clear the line because it was blocking their car from going through.
Furthermore, a union can legally contest an arbitrator’s ruling. Dan Siegel, a longtime civil rights labor lawyer in Oakland who was present on the picket line that night, explained the tension between arbitration and the ILWU leadership’s actions: “I can understand the ILWU’s decision to obey the arbitrators ruling in order to avoid being fined, but it seems to me that they went way further than that by assisting the police in breaking up what was a lawful picket and thus providing evidence that made the arbitrator’s decision inevitable.
“By evidence I mean driving their cars through the line–giving a legitimacy for the police to break up the line and for the arbitrator to make his decision,” explained Siegel. “This is very contrary to the ILWU’s history and tradition of standing with the working class.”
After the Oakland Police Department forced the picketers off the line and onto the sidewalk, members of the ILWU were allowed to enter the terminal to begin their shift, escorted by the police. Adding salt to the wound, Miguel Masso, the Oakland police officer who shot and killed a Black teenager named Alan Blueford last year, was on the riot line keeping protesters on the sidewalk while ILWU members were escorted into the terminal. Once Masso was recognized, the rage from the crowd prompted the police to remove him from the line.
However, some turned around and drove away, suggesting that many more rank-and-file members would have stood in solidarity with the truckers had they not arrived at their worksite to be directed in by the police and the union president. What was clear to all present was that the leadership went beyond what was a necessary legal consideration into the realm of working class betrayal, using the ludicrous political cover of reactionary anti-union regulations, and relying on the force of the state, while making machismo physical threats towards picketers.
Villegiante even used an argument typical of the Port of Oakland’s management when he complained to the media that, “[the truckers are] trying to use the port as an economic tool. I understand that, but the problem is, they hurt the area . . . People looking on the outside will think it’s not a reliable port.” The backward nature of business unionism and cooperation with management could hardly be made more clear.
The following day, work at the port continued but the truckers’ job action slowed it to a crawl with 90% of the truckers refusing work, forcing various political figures from the port and the City of Oakland to negotiate. Mayor Jean Quan promised another meeting with statewide political figures and port administrators, but the truckers are hardly under any illusions and are prepared to exert economic pressure again if these negotiations go nowhere. The truckers are currently awaiting further response to their demands, but they say that their patience is wearing thin. All the while their support is growing.
Abuse, Racism, and Exploitation
Anecdotes of the working environment for port truckers are brutal and humiliating. Verbal abuse, racism, and even threats of physical violence are a typical part of the working day. The truckers arrive early at the port and often sit in line for four or five hours or more, unpaid, while they wait for cargo to be loaded onto their trucks. During this time, they are required to follow strict rules and are not allowed to leave their truck even to go to the bathroom, forced to urinate in plastic bottles and inhale the fumes from the from their diesel exhaust. Those fumes have also created an environmental health hazard for the mostly Black West Oakland community. Toxic smog drifts into nearby homes, schools, parks, and workplaces.
The main demands of the truckers are meant to offset their increasing economic burden. Specifically, they are asking for help in paying for environmental compliance and economic assistance in upgrading their trucks to meet new standards. Emissions from trucks, cars and ships are a major source of pollution in West Oakland, causing heightened rates of asthma that have been a constant complaint from local residents.
The truckers are supportive of these changes–but they insist on not paying the full cost while the companies that benefit from their work make billions. If they are not given economic assistance, hundreds of truckers will be out of a job on January 1, 2014 as their trucks will no longer meet the new standards.
They are also asking for a waiting fee from the port. To pick up and move cargo the truckers are required to idle on the main roads and near the entrances to the various terminals. The truckers want to at least be minimally compensated for their wait times and, more importantly, they seek to discourage the port from having these excessive wait times in the first place. They have asked the port to hire more ILWU workers and install new equipment–also requested from the union–so that more rigs can be loaded in a shorter amount of time but without increasing the already dangerous work conditions. Finally, they are asking for a raise after not having received one for ten years.
A tale of Two Strikes
There is an important contrast between the truckers’ self-organized strike and the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) strike that occurred the same day. BART workers, along with asking for a pay raise, have been fighting for improved safety conditions. The importance of this demand was laid bare days before the truckers’ strike when a train driven by a manager practicing to be a replacement driver struck and killed two BART maintenance workers.
But rather than rally their troops to demand more concessions from BART when their case was proven with the coming to fruition of the worst-case scenario, the unions instead took down their pickets and galloped back to the bargaining table to further compromise. The unions will ultimately get more than BART was initially offering, due to the power of their strike, but less than they could have, due to the leadership’s fear of that same power.
The BART unions, especially Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are highly connected to the Bay Area Democratic Party machines in San Francisco and Oakland but have been running scared of their own strike since the beginning. Terrified of public outrage over the inconvenience caused by the strike, they have done everything they could to avoid taking action and have been slammed by these fairweather friends anyway. Lieutenant Governor–and former San Francisco Mayor–Gavin Newsom, a rising star among California Democrats, declared after the strike that “this can never happen again.” Steve Glazer, a Democrat running for State Assembly who has also worked as Governor Jerry Brown’s advisor, put forward a proposal to outlaw public transit strikes as a centerpiece of his political platform.
Having spent millions to put Democrats in power in California, the unions are finding that their allies have become enemies. Rather than rise to prominence by allying with unions, these Democrats are furthering their electoral careers by attacking them.
The contrast between the two actions was stark–the self-organization of truckers in the face of legal restrictions on the one hand, and the multi-million dollar machine operation of SEIU on the other hand. While the truckers face legal action and police batons every time they picket, the BART unions spend their days agonizing over bad press.
The future of the labor movement just might rest with workers such as the port truckers–those who don’t have a union, don’t have the support of mainstream institutions, and are not even classified as workers. And yet through their own determination and willingness to withhold their labor “as an economic tool”–the best tool they have–these truckers show what a different labor movement could look like.
Scott Jay and Barucha Peller are Bay Area activists.
5 Things You Never Knew You Didn’t Know About Oakland Port Truckers
Oakland Port Truckers have been working to improve working conditions and compensation, most notably by staging a wildcat strike and subsequent work slowdown. These are some things you might not have thought to ask, but you ought to know about these Port Truckers.
- They are some of the lowest paid drayagers in the country. The truckers last pay raise per load was almost 10 years ago, and the raise before that also came 10 years before. The Port of Oakland is the 5th largest port in America, yet it still hasn’t put changes into effect that other major ports have implemented to increase pay, decrease congestion, and reduce emissions.
- Their trucks all meet green emissions standards set for all California trucks all the way up to the year 2020. It’s the Port Of Oakland specifically that has new green emissions mandates going into effect on January 1, 2014. So after the New Year, their trucks will be considered “clean” in West Oakland, and “dirty” inside the port. The Port Commission has the power to influence an extension on this deadline, but they have yet to do so.
- Port truckers are the only group required to fully comply with new green emissions standards by 2014. Despite the fact that some of the worst polluters on the port are cranes and transtainers, (machines that load cargo boxes,) super-terminals like SSA (owned by Goldman Sachs) are only required to makes these machines compliant at a rate of one per year. These companies can afford to bring their equipment up to the highest available environmental standards and protect the lungs of people in West Oakland, but they choose to comply as slowly as they are legally allowed so that they can continue to project billion-dollar profits and meet projections. West Oakland residents are collateral damage for corporate profits, while truckers are blamed. One of the demands of truckers is for a flat fee per load, paid by terminals, to offset the cost of new loans they are taking on to meet new emissions standards. Terminals that refuse to make themselves more efficient force truckers to wait, burning fuel, yet the burden is on truckers to take out new loans to meet emissions standards, rather than on the terminals to keep lines moving and reduce idling time. Port workers, including truckers, are exposed most to the polluted air from cranes, transtainers, and long lines. They want air at the Port of Oakland to be clean as much, if not more, than anyone else.
- They are at the mercy of the terminals. Long lines pile up as truckers come to pick up loads, but because some terminals, notably SSA, refuse to hire more longshoremen for relief work or purchase new equipment to keep up with demand, they face waiting times of 3-8 hours for a pick-up. These terminals are owned by billion-dollar multinational corporations who have the funds to decrease congestion, and therefore air pollution, and enable truckers to run more loads in a day and make more money, but they choose not to. Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle oversaw many changes, including fees paid to truckers, grant funding for emissions compliance, and operation changes to improve efficiency at the Port of Long Beach, but he has not brought those changes to Oakland.
- When all is said and done, if Oakland Port Truckers get their demands met, they will be barely breaking even. You heard right. There’s no cost of living increase, no inflation increase, no diesel-is-outrageously-expensive increase, all they are looking for is compensation for time spent waiting and to share the burden of green emissions compliance. Long lines mean truckers have to take less loads, seriously affecting their income. One of the primary demands is for a “congestion fee,” a fee paid by the terminal to truckers forced to wait more than 2 hours for a load. Expecting truckers to sit for hours without pay, burning diesel at their own expense, while waiting for a load is the equivalent of wage theft. This problem is particularly bad at the SSA terminal, which recently acquired the APL terminal and the TTI Terminal, which brought congestion to an all-time high, limiting pay for truckers and costing them lots of money. The “green emissions fee” they are asking for is a $50 fee paid on each box they haul to help with the cost of upgrading their trucks to new standards. When truckers most recently upgraded their trucks, they each had to take loans of about $20,000 to pay for new filters. Most truckers are also paying loans on their trucks, which range from $50,000 to $80,000. The new green emissions standards would force them to purchase either new engines, or new trucks, taking out additional loans of $20,000 to $80,000. A $50 per box fee would approximately add up to a new loan payment for truck upgrades. These demands exist solely to keep truckers working, and keep them from losing even more money.
To support the Oakland Port Truckers Strike Fund, please use this link. Work slowdowns and stoppages put a lot of strain on truckers, most of whom have families.