Drivers have both thrown up their own organizations and are looking to join established industrial unions, such as the Teamsters, in order to advance their fight.
A national day of action is planned February 18 to press the truck drivers' demands.
The February 11 Miami Herald reported, "On a busy day, more than 1,200 shipping containers--holding tons of goods each--may flow through the Port of Miami. The number now has fallen to just a few dozen."
Even the option of diverting shipments to Ft. Lauderdale's Port Everglades disappeared when the truckers there joined the work stoppage.
As of February 14 the truck drivers at the port, who are members of the International Longshoremen's Association, were honoring the picket lines.
Hundreds of truckers have shown their unity and economic power in daily protests that began here February 7. The actions are organized by the Support Trucking Group, made up of 450–500 lease owner-operators who contract to work for one shipping company only, as well as 800 dump truck drivers who are independent and work for more than one company at a time. Leaders of the Support Trucking Group said neither group will return to work until both are satisfied that their demands are met.
Both groups of truckers are protesting rising diesel fuel prices, which have increased more than 50 percent in the past year; low rates paid by shipping companies; and the charging of exorbitant insurance fees.
One trucker said that a job that used to pay $45 now pays $26–$28, and that if you are undocumented, you get even less. "We can't continue to work this way," said Abel, who has been an owner-operator for six years. "We are losing our houses and our cars. Even when there is not enough work, the companies keep hiring because they charge us $155 for insurance every week whether we work or not. So it is more money for them."
Oscar Pupo, a spokesman for the truckers in Miami-Dade County, said, "On the average, we make about $600 a week, but of that we have to pay about $140 on fuel, $150 on insurance, $80 on taxes and fees, and $60 on maintenance. That leaves us about $170 per week."
At the February 11 rally, representatives from the Teamsters Port Division spoke from the platform and made a big push to sign up truckers into the union. Most drivers there filled out union cards. At one point, some of the leaders of the rally allowed the Manager of the Port of Newark and Elizabeth to speak. He appealed to the protesters to work together with him to resolve the issues without disruption of port commerce.
He was drowned out by a chant of, "No work!" and he was unable to continue. Hector, one of the organizers of the actions, responded, "No work today, no work Monday, no work Tuesday; no work until we get this fixed and we get some respect," which brought cheers from the protesters. Many workers at the rally carried handmade signs. One trucker held up two signs: one reading, "Slavery is over;" and the other, "We want a union!"
Many truckers pointed to the need to increase rates paid to drivers to compensate for increased fuel costs. One sign at the rally called on the governor of New Jersey to step in to control rising fuel prices.
Some of the other issues involved in the fight include demands to end the harassment of truckers by the Department of Transportation and the various Port, state, and local police agencies. A number of truckers reported being routinely pulled over by the police and ticketed for minor infractions. Truck drivers were also angered over having to sit long hours outside shipping terminals, without pay, waiting to pick up or drop off their loads.
"Sometimes we work six to seven hours without pay. We can waste the whole day and not earn anything," said trucker Efram Garcia. Carlos Salmientos, 34 years old with two years as a trucker, added, "And if you don't speak English, they make you wait longer. It's like they have an English-only policy."
The truckers from Massachusetts and Rhode Island are demanding the state governments help them in the face of skyrocketing diesel fuel prices. "The price is sky-high," explained Louie Medicos, from Rehoboth, Massachusetts, who has been driving for 13 years. "You can't afford to run a truck."
"I parked my truck last week," said Ray Mello, a trucker from Portsmouth, Rhode Island, explaining he could no longer afford operation costs. Many truckers are locked into contracts setting how much they can receive for each shipment and are expected to absorb fuel price increases.
Jason Mello, who graduated from high school last year and works for his father, came to the protests with his friend. The young Mello explained how the protests got organized. "A couple days ago my dad and a couple guys got talking. There was a meeting of 25 truckers last night and they planned this action today."
In Massachusetts, the trucker delegation met with Gov. Paul Cellucci's senior aides and House minority leader Francis Marini.
In a short reportback to the truckers who waited outside the Massachusetts State House, the truckers who met with legislators and the governor's aides said officials indicated they would file a bill that would stop for 30 days the collection of the state's 21-cent a gallon excise tax on diesel fuel. They also reported there was an agreement to meet again next week to discuss further measures that could be taken.
Jim O'Connell, from Warwick, Rhode Island, said as the truckers were leaving Boston, "We're not going to stop here. We have to do what we have to do to get the prices down."
Ted Leonard is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
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