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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

February 8, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Boiling point at the port

I cover the waterfront, but today I was out at the Teamsters hall in Tukwila giving a speech to a group of retirees. Meanwhile, the Teamsters are supporting an effort by non-union drayage (short-haul) truckers to shut down the Port of Seattle. These drivers haul containers from the port to rail terminals. They make low wages, complain of poor working conditions and are responsible for such things as safety violations in their trucks. They’re targeting discretionary cargo that must move on specific days to make rail schedules.

The Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom reported on the issue last week. Today, cargo is barely moving. It’s a compelling human story. I listened to a Teamsters organizer talk about the plight of these drivers, many of whom are immigrants, trapped in low-wage jobs. Many walked off the job in protest and the trucking companies allegedly withheld their paychecks. The Teamsters and the port have been at odds over this for years, port officials saying they have limited ability to micromanage the private drayage companies on wages. Of course, the Teamsters would love to organize these drivers.

But it’s also a regional competitiveness story. Without the ability to move cargo quickly from dockside to rail container terminals, Seattle is sunk (Tacoma has dockside rail access and is less dependent on drayage truckers.

The bottom line is that the port is responsible for a big chunk of the region’s blue-collar jobs, most of which pay family wage jobs. It’s also a pickle for the Teamsters and Longshoremen, who benefit from the port even as they want to help the drayage drivers organize.

It’s probably naive to say all sides need to work together to finally resolve this, but that’s what needs to happen. Otherwise, the bad blood will grow, port efficiency will suffer and the losers won’t be the 1 percent. It’s a developing story, and I’ll revisit it later this week.

And Don’t Miss: A ‘quality assessment’ of U.S. jobs reveals the ugliest picture yet || Zero Hedge

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Will a Greek deal take?

All of Europe wants to know

Can you say ‘drachma’?

Comments | More in Labor unions, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Railroads

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