Savannah port truckers air grievances

June 5, 2013

Nearly 300 independent truckers operating at the Port of Savannah attended the Stand Up for Savannah forum last weekend to vent their grievances on inequities and injustices they say they suffer on the job at the port.

The forum was sponsored by Georgia Local 728 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and many political, governmental, faith and civic leaders were included on the forum’s panel.

Panelists listened to repeated testimony about the financial and occupational hardships endured by the independent truckers responsible for hauling away about 80% of the freight and materials that make their way through the Port of Savannah, according to a report in the Savannah Morning News.

The key complaint was the current system that allows the trucking companies servicing the port to “misclassify” the truckers as independent contractors — with no health or pension benefits — rather than employees.

The truckers said misclassification relegates them to the bottom rung of the economic ladder at the Port of Savannah, which produces almost $16 billion a year in income, and other ports throughout the country when it comes to wages and working conditions.

Truckers decried the fact they make about 25% less than truckers considered employees, despite having to buy and maintain their own vehicles at their own expense and pointed to poor working conditions, which they described as overtly stressful and dangerous.

“These independent truckers are under-paid and under-valued,” Fred Potter, a New Jersey-based international vice president of the Teamsters, told the panel and the audience of truckers. “They call you employees when it suits them and then call you independent contractors when it suits them.

“The port drivers are the new sharecroppers on wheels. Ports have replaced the cotton fields.”

A panelist at the forum, State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, said the next step toward alleviating these inequities might be for the state General Assembly to make a clearer distinction of what makes someone an employee rather than a independent contractor.

Jackson also said he would like for a contingent of truckers to meet with the Chatham County legislative delegation and said he would be willing to bring a small contingent of truckers to Atlanta to meet with Gov. Nathan Deal.

Larry Benjamin, assistant director of the federal Department of Labor’s labor wage and hour division in Savannah, said he would like to meet with truckers to develop some test cases that might more clearly allow the truckers to challenge their treatment and classification by the trucking companies.

No representatives of the trucking companies were invited to the meeting, according to Teamsters organizer Ben Speight, and ports executive director Curtis Foltz declined an invitation to the event.

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