Oakland Port Truckers Threaten Week-Long Strike

Source: JOC


Oakland Port Truckers Threaten Week-Long Strike

Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle will meet with harbor truckers, terminal operators and other stakeholders Thursday in an attempt to head off a possible week-long disruption threatened by owner-operators.

The independent truck drivers distributed flyers at marine terminals stating that they intend to call a week-long strike beginning Oct. 7. The drivers are especially upset about a California clean trucks deadline scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, that will result in hundreds of older trucks being banned from the port.

The drivers have suffered through bouts of congestion this year caused by actions taken by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union over medical claims issues and loss of some maintenance work. Truckers are also angry about long lines in the wake of SSA Marine’s takeover of former APL and TTI terminal operations. SSA combined the adjacent facilities with its own container terminal.

The No. 1 issue on the minds of drivers, though, is a regulation from the California Air Resources Board banning trucks with engines that are older than model year 2007. Hundreds of owner-operator truckers will be unable to haul containers to and from the port beginning Jan. 1.

The drivers are pressing the port to influence CARB to extend the deadline. Lytle, in fact, has already asked CARB for relief for the drives, but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

“ARB has no plans for an extension of the 1/1/2014 Drayage Truck Regulation compliance deadline,” agency spokeswoman Karen Caesar said. She noted that the rule was announced in 2007, and since then more than 20,000 trucks, or 91 percent of the drayage truck fleet in California, are in compliance.

The state regulation will newly impact Class 7 and Class 8 trucks calling at California ports and intermodal railyards other than the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where pre-2007 trucks have been banned for almost two years now. The state regulation is patterned after the Los Angeles-Long Beach clean trucks plan.

Although the Southern California plan was controversial at the time, it was implemented fairly smoothly, with the help of about $300 million in assistance provided by the two ports to the trucking industry.

The Northern California drivers received some financial assistance the past few years to purchase diesel particulate traps, but that was a temporary measure and CARB continued to remind the truckers that pre-2007 model trucks would be banned on Jan. 1 even if they have been retrofitted.

Oakland is not flush with cash as Los Angeles and Long Beach were, so the port has told the owner-operators not to expect a great deal of financial help. Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said Oakland is exploring possibilities for some additional assistance, but can not guarantee that any money will materialize for the drivers.

Estimates of how many trucks will become obsolete begin at about 400. However, Bill Aboudi, president of AB Trucking, said the number could be as high as 1,000. “It’s hurting a lot of people,” Aboudi said. He added that he would probably have to reduce his small fleet on Jan. 1.

The congestion issue at SSA Marine is a moving target. “Until the last two days, we have been pretty good,” said Ed DeNike, chief operating officer. However, the newly enlarged operation now processes 4,500 to 5,000 truck moves a day, and surges happen. DeNike said SSA added personnel on Wednesday and turn times returned to normal.

Terminal operators in Oakland have been squeezed since the recession. Five terminal operators left the port the last few years because they couldn’t make any money, DeNike said. Oakland’s port charges are the highest on the West Coast, and that adds to the terminal operators’ problems, he said.

SSA is limited as to how many resources it can assign to its operations each day, given the financial challenges terminal operators and their shipping line customers face. “We’ll do the best we can with what we have. This is the state of the industry today,” DeNike said.

Kos-Read said Thursday’s stakeholders’ meeting will hopefully head off any possible disruptions by truckers. He noted, however, that should drivers choose to protest, the port has already contacted local law enforcement agencies. Police officers will ensure that the drivers have a safe location where they can carry out their protest without disrupting the smooth flow of cargo to and from the marine terminals, he said.