Drivers end 2-week protest at Seattle port

More than 400 short-haul truck drivers who  had walked off the job at the Port of Seattle have agreed to return to  work, ending a two-week walkout protesting unsafe working conditions at the  port.

The drivers, who haul containers from the port to rail yards,  complained of poor working conditions and low wages, as well as being held  liable for equipment-related safety violations and overweight load fines over  which they have no control.

A rally was held Monday at Harbor Island to show support for  the drivers, organized by the Seattle Port Truckers Assn. and Puget Sound Sage.  The Teamsters also supported the action.  Hundreds of truck drivers, community supporters and Muslim, Sikh, and Christian  faith leaders rallied near the Spokane Street Bridge Fishing area in Seattle  demanding safety and fairness for the drivers.

The drivers represent about one-third of the daily truck  fleet at the Port, according to the Seattle  Times. However, while the walkout slowed some cargo loads, no ships were  diverted or stopped.

One of the leaders of the walkout, truck driver Demeke  Meconnen, said the group decided to return to work while continuing to push for  changes when it saw that employers were starting to lose their accounts. All  but one trucking company have joined in talks with the drivers, he said.

“This is not only about the money. We’re talking about  safety, respect, dignity and fairness,” Meconnen told the Times.

Several trucking firms agreed to boost the pay per load to  $44 from $40 a trip, to compensate drivers stuck in line more than an hour and  to pay for some trips drivers make when they have no load, Paul Marvy, a  labor-union researcher advising the truckers told the Times.

Drivers at the port earn an average $30,000 a year after  paying for insurance and fuel, according to a Port survey, but some trucking  interests have said incomes of more than twice that are possible. However, Port  commissioners have worried that if Seattle unilaterally imposes rules to aid  truckers, the Port would lose cargo to Canadian or Gulf ports.

“This is an ongoing process. We will continue to fight as  time goes on, to make sure these problems will be resolved,” said Calvin  Borders, of the new Seattle Port Truckers Assn.

The state House last week passed a bill to designate the  port drivers as employees instead of independent contractors, a move that is  criticized by trucking interests. The Washington Trucking Assn. and the  Washington Public Ports Assn. testified against the bill to overhaul the  employment model and the Owner-Operator  Independent Drivers Assn. has decried moves to make drivers employees.

“Supporters of HB2395 claim changes are needed because  drivers at ports and intermodal rail yards are being misclassified,” OOIDA said  in a call to action against the bill. “Lawmakers should know if the main  concern is misclassification the state would be better served to focus on  existing and established enforcement mechanisms.”

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