Yesterday evening a committee of owner-operators convened with 40 negotiators representing various brokers and trucking companies, along with port officials to negotiate a settlement to end a bitter trucker shutdown at the Port of Oakland (California). The strike began last week when hundreds of independent truckers stopped hauling cargo to the port to demand higher rates and fuel surcharges.
“The meeting went well,” said Irvinder Dhanda, a committee representative for owner-operators. “Brokers were willing to negotiate and they did,” Dhanda told Fleet Owner, citing that some promised 20-25% rate hikes.
Some of the brokers agreed to make an offer consistent with their initial promise of a 20-25% rate hike within 30 days, Dhanda said.
“If they don’t come up with an offer we’re not happy with after 30 days, we’ll strike again,” Dhanda said.
Complicating the committee’s efforts was the crowded bargaining table. The 70 to 80 independent truckers that attended— who each represents their own business— had to negotiate with brokers separately in accordance to antitrust laws, explained Marilyn Sandifur, Port of Oakland spokeswoman.
“The tentative agreement was that truckers would go back to work, while trucking companies agree to negotiate with their customers,” Sandifur told Fleet Owner. “They (trucking companies) have to talk to their customers about increasing costs.”
However, some of the larger brokers did not attend, which angered some of the truckers.
“It’s something we have to keep working on,” Dhanda said, adding that he is continuing to negotiate with brokers.
Although the meeting is considered a step in the right direction, there were several truckers that left the meeting unhappy that either the larger brokers didn’t show or that the ones that did attend didn’t offer enough.
For now, the week-long shutdown continues, putting strain on the Port of Oakland, as well as brokers and owner-operators. There were still over 100 people protesting today as of noon PDT today, despite the agreement reached at the meeting. Owner-operator committee representatives are with the protesters, Sandifur said.
“It’s not certain whether the owner-operators who stood out as leaders are trying to explain to the others that an agreement has been reached, or that they do know but are protesting anyway,” Sandifur said.
Complicating matters even further is that the various owner-operators face cultural and language barriers that hinder them from coordinating effectively.
“We’ve got a multi-lingual group, and maybe with more than one dialect. That makes it challenging for the leadership that has risen to even communicate what has transpired,” Sandifur said.
Ruben Lopez, an owner-operator, told Fleet Owner that he wants to end the strike as soon as possible. But he says the tense situation has made it impossible for willing truckers to move cargo again.
“I’m barely going to survive without work for a week,” Lopez said. “But if I go back to work now, I’m going to get it— I don’t want to have my truck destroyed.”
But even truckers willing to go back to work still face a dilemma between making ends meet in the short term and fighting for better long-term rates.
“I’m not satisfied so far because I don’t know whether I’m going to get a rate increase or not, but if I get 10% right now, I’d be happy,” Lopez said. “Rates haven’t gone up for ten years, so if it goes up even that much, it’s a big deal.”
Although the future of rate increases remains murky, what is certain is owner-operators serving the Port of Oakland have gained something they have never had— representation. The formation of the committee has given owner-operators a means to voice their issues to brokers and port officials.
“The Port is going to give us a meeting room to form a committee so we can bring up our concerns every three months,” Lopez said. “That’s never happened before. We’ve been coordinating things from word-of-mouth. There was never a way to get things fixed or settled. Now at least we have a table.”