Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Los Angeles: Port Truckers Set to Strike May 1st

For the past 20 years port truckers in Los Angeles have been organizing for employee recognition, respect, dignity, and decent wages.

Port Truckers Set to Strike May 1st
By John Riley, Si Se Puede Collective
April 11, 2006

For the past 20 years port truckers in Los Angeles have been organizing for employee recognition, respect, dignity, and decent wages. Their struggle has past through various ups and downs, but this May 1st might just be the beginning of a new wave or radicalism for Los Angeles port truckers. If all goes as planned LA Harbor, the biggest port on the west coast, will come to a screeching halt on May 1st.

Unlike the common vision of a trucker, an old white man wearing a cowboy hat drinking a big gulp full of coffee, most truckers in LA are Latino, some are women, and most speak Spanish. They call themselves troqueros. They work an average of 60- 80 hours a week, and are often forced to drive under dangerous and illegal conditions. Many of them have histories as organizers or radicals in their home countries. And now they are making history organizing in the U.S.

Troqueros, or owner operators as the trucking companies call them, are denied benefits given to most employees because the companies contend that they are independent contractors and thus not entitled to collective bargaining rights. Trucking companies have also used this loophole to set up dubious insurance scams. Instead of offering insurance plans from private HMOs like most employers do, the trucking industry has been charging truckers high premiums for a company health plan, and then buying a cheaper plan from an HMO, and pocketing the profit. And the money trucking companies are making from this scam is substantial. One company, Pacer, made over three million dollars in a period of ten years with this insurance scam. On top of this, wages for truckers has stayed stagnant for years, and with the cost of diesel rising to almost 3$ a gallon, it is the truckers who are feeling the pinch.

But the tide may be turning for the troqueros. Recently the International Longshoremans Union along with the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters have committed to supply serious time and resources into organizing the 50,000+ truckers in the LA area. The Teamsters have tried before, without much success, but some hope that now with the support of the ILWU, the truckers might have another shot at organizing.

In the end however, the fate of the troqeros lies in their own hands. The Troqueros are organizing themselves, mostly over via two-way and CB radio. If you happened to tune into one of their conversations these days, the radio is filled with talk, in Spanish and English, of the Huegla General the General Strike on May 1st. The planned strike is part of a larger general strike called for in support of immigrant rights, but the truckers are also calling for their own demands including a 25% wage increase.

In Long Beach a small band of truckers and supporters stands across one of the major freight lines with a sign that reads: Huegla General, 1 de Mayo. Trucks pass by with drivers leaning out their windows to see the sign, most raise their thumbs or their fists in support, some honk and smile. The rumor is that truckers in ports across the United States may join the LA truckers in striking on mayday. The extent to which the strike takes hold is yet to be seen, what is certain is that if these truckers and successful, they will do some serious economic damage to the international commerce, and if the truckers are able to successfully organize, either through official union recognition or otherwise, it will be a serious victory for workers in Los Angeles and across the country.

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