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Shutdown at the Port of Oakland

by YVONNE YEN LIU

About 30 truckers and 150 supporters rallied in front of SSA’s terminals at the Port of Oakland yesterday. The truckers formed a picket line in time for the 7pm shift of ILWU longshorman. Unfortunately, ILWU Local 10 called the Oakland Police to stand guard in front of the rally, to protect the ILWU members who crossed the picket line. The SSA terminal was not shut down. Officials from ILWU complained about how they were being brought to court by the Port for not going to work earlier in the day when the truckers shut down another terminal, this one operated by Ports America and TraPac. They grumbled that they were all in support of the truckers and labor solidarity, but they couldn’t afford to pay the fees in court, which would bankrupt the union.

Attorney Dan Siegel was present as a legal observer for the NLG. Siegel said that the truckers could be prosecuted for illegally stopping trade. He represented sand and quarry truckers a few years ago, also independent contractors, who went on strike for better wages. The state prosecuted the truckers with civil and criminal charges, accusing them of being a monopoly. Siegel was able to get the charges dropped, but only after an immense amount of legal wrangling.

Siegel said, “The ILWU has succeeded in getting a decent standards of living, now it’s time for the truckers to.”

One of the strikers is Frank Adams, a trucker with the Port of Oakland Truckers Association. Adams has worked at the port for eight years. He and his fellow truckers, most of them Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Black men in their 30s and 40s, haven’t received a raise in 10 years, despite rising costs like fuel. The truckers often pay upwards of $2000 in expenses for their truck purchase and expenses, yet they only earn $46 to transport a container from the port to the Union Pacific railroad nearby. If they’re lucky enough to get a container. Since SSA acquired the two terminals sandwiched on each side, TTI (formerly Hanjin) and Global Gateway Central (EMS/APL), they only hired 20 workers, where before there were hundreds. Trucks are forced to queue in a single lane to enter the terminal, often waiting four to five hours to enter, all the time burning costly diesel fuel.

“The single lane causes a bottleneck, you can’t shut down your truck because the line moves slowly,” Adams told me. “It’s money wasted, and killing the earth, putting more sludge into the West Oakland community.”

Meanwhile, the truckers can’t leave their vehicles to use the bathroom. If they do, the port fines them $50 or kicks them out of the terminal for a year. “We deserve respectful treatment,” Miguel Cervantes, a trucker for 15 years at the Oakland port, said, “Not like criminals.”

The truckers’ loss is SSA’s gain. SSA made $1 billion last year, a day’s activity at the terminal earns the company $1 to 2 million. Goldman Sachs owns a 49% stake in Carrix, Inc., the parent company of SSA. “The same company who put our country into a financial crisis,” Adams added. Until recently SSA only controlled one of the Port of Oakland’s major terminals. SSA sued the Port of Oakland in 2009, however, alleging the Port had violated the U.S. Shipping Act by giving a competitor, Ports America, a more favorable lease. The Port of Oakland settled that lawsuit earlier this Summer by agreeing to allow SSA to take over several other terminals at the Port, creating a mega-terminal. The Port of Oakland is now dominated by SSA and Ports America.

At one point, around 6pm, the picketers realized that Miguel Masso, the Oakland police officer who killed 18-year old Alan Blueford was standing in the scrimmage line of cops. People started shouting, “Killer! Child killer!” until the field commander removed Masso from the line.

Around 7pm the trucker-organizers delivered a short speech to the crowd assembled in their support. They announced the day was a success and that the truckers would meet to decide on next steps. Members of the community also pledged solidarity, and to support whatever the truckers decided to do next.

Yvonne Yen Liu lives in Oakland. She is a member of the Global Supply Chains study group, which is mapping out global logistics and worker strikes. See http://empire-logistics.org.

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