The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 4           January 30, 2006  
‘Many drivers want Teamsters’
Independent truckers in Miami discuss organizing
(feature article)
MIAMI—“There are many truck drivers who want the Teamsters union,” said Jesús Pérez, a truck driver for 19 years.

He was referring to the effort by the Teamsters union here, which began last fall, to organize the 1,700 independent truckers who haul containers from the Port of Miami, Port of Everglades, and local rail yards. The union opened a hiring hall at the Teamsters Local 769 offices Sept. 17, 2005, as part of a national campaign that union officers said was aimed at organizing independent truckers and other drivers in the $80 billion container shipping industry across the East Coast.

According to the Teamsters, the fall organizing drive here did not succeed by the end of the peak season since the union did not sign up the majority of the 1,700 drivers in the area, but union organizers said the Teamsters are committed to the fight to organize drivers to get respect and a better income.

“The situation has not gotten better,” Pérez said. “I work 70-80 hours a week. Eighty percent of the companies at the Port of Miami provide no benefits. There are a lot of delays. We wait three to four hours for a container. At best two hours. They pay by the trip, not by the hour. Nineteen years ago wages were better, if you take into account prices. I used to work 40-50 hours a week. I never worked as many hours as now.”

Sandro Lerro has been driving since 1994 and worked as a driver/organizer for the Teamsters during its fall organizing campaign here. “We still face the same conditions. They have raised the rates a bit,” he said, referring to the hourly fee the companies pay to the truck drivers. “But the Port of Miami is still a mess. We still wait three to four hours. It is faster in New Jersey.”

Port drivers in the United States are usually the newest immigrants in their community, according to the Teamsters. In Oakland, California, most port drivers are East Indian. In Houston and Los Angeles the majority of drivers are Central American and Mexican. In Detroit they are mostly from the Middle East. Here, for the most part, port drivers are from Cuba. New immigrants are attracted to hauling port containers since there are few requirements to get the job—mostly a license and $4,000-$10,000 to purchase a used truck. The average owner-operator at the ports has no health insurance, no pension, no paid vacations or holidays, and after expenses grosses between $7 and $8 per hour.

Rising fuel costs and stricter government security regulations that have lengthened unpaid waiting time to get into the ports in recent years have worsened conditions for the drivers and created a more fertile ground for union organizing.

Since port drivers are classified as independent owner-operators, not employees, they are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act or state labor laws and can be sued for taking collective action or have their leases terminated for protesting unjust treatment.

That’s why, Lerro told the Militant last October, Miami truck drivers who have an independent contractor lease agreement with the carriers had to quit their jobs last fall in order to join the Teamsters union as employee owner-operators. As members of the Teamsters they can protest and strike legally.

“Many people are depending on the Teamsters,” Angel Leiva, a truck driver since 1995, said in another interview. “The situation is the same or worse than before. We continue to fight to find a way forward.”

Ruth Robinett contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Union dues & contracts: Lessons from Teamsters in 1930s  
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