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.”