Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Striking truckers boycott U.S. ports

By Alan Sayre
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS - Upset over wages, fuel costs and anti-union laws, hundreds of independent truckers went on strike at several U.S. ports Monday, slowing the movement of cargo containers that can hold anything from furniture to electronics to frozen food.

Nationwide independent truckers, who get paid by the load, had called for a strike from Monday to Sunday. It was unclear how many truckers went on strike.

About 200 independent truckers demonstrated at Port Newark, one of the nation's busiest container ports, said Tiffany Townsend, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"We're certainly open for business, but obviously volume is down," Townsend said.

About 30 independent truckers went on strike at the Port of New Orleans. While some terminals reported slower-than-normal business, it was too early to tell if the boycott was responsible, said David Wagner, the port's chief operating officer.

Calls made to three of the approximate 20 trucking companies that employ independent drivers at the Port of New Orleans were not returned.

Dozens of independent truckers walked picket lines in South Carolina outside the Port of Charleston, the nation's fourth-busiest container port.

"Shut it down!" one picket shouted as a container truck moved through the gate of the Columbus Street terminal in Charleston.

"We just peacefully want to come out here and let people know we are doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less," said Chris Stonier of Ladson, S.C., who started driving big rigs a decade ago when fuel was 95 cents a gallon. The average price for a gallon of diesel fuel was $1.70 last week and has been as high as $1.76 this year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

The protest seemed to take a toll on port traffic. Grady Hendrix, who joined about two dozen other truckers outside the Columbus Street Terminal, counted 20 trucks leaving the terminal in the first two hours it was open. On a normal day, he said, there would be that many trucks in a half hour.

At the Port of Boston, two or three independent truckers stood across the street from the entrance of the Conley container terminal, said Massachusetts Port Authority spokeswoman Georgeane Tacelli. She said they were holding signs, but had no effect on operations or traffic.

Truckers are upset over rising costs and low wages. But they also want to be able to form unions and collectively bargain for better contracts from shipping and trucking companies that hire them out.

Truck owner-operators are considered independent business people and are barred by federal price-fixing laws from negotiating or talking with employers together.

"The carriers are taking advantage of the independent operators due to their lack of representation and due to their lack of recourse," said Robert Fezekas, a Meraux trucker and lobbyist.


On the Net

Port of New Orleans: http://www.portno.com

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