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Jon Talton

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

February 13, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Stalemate as port labor fight continues

Non-union short-haul truckers are entering their third week of an action to get better working conditions at the Port of Seattle. According to Sage Wilson of the activist group Working Washington, a rally was to be held at 9 a.m. today at Harbor Island to show support for the drivers, organized by the Seattle Port Truckers Association and Puget Sound Sage. The Teamsters are also supporting the action.

The drivers, primarily immigrants, haul containers from the port to rail yards. They complain of poor working conditions and wages, as well as being held liable for safety violations over which they have no control. Last week, they were largely successful in shutting down movement of freight. Wilson claims “Container ships continue to back up on Elliott Bay as the movement of goods has slowed to a virtual halt. Running on Alki (Sunday), I counted at least 4 freighters floating listlessly in the bay.” (Actually, two are grain ships that have nothing to do with the truckers and today is a Longshoremen’s holiday). Last week, the truckers successfully rallied for back pay from Edgmon Trucking, one of the short-haul (drayage) companies that employs the immigrant drivers.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, the House passed HB 2395, which would grant short-haul truck drivers more of the rights of employees under state law. Currently, they are treated as independent contractors. Still, a meeting involving port officials last week produced no resolution.

As I’ve written before, all sides have an urgent interest in solving this long-running dispute. The port is responsible for hundreds of thousands of blue-collar jobs that pay family wages, including many union jobs. One issue in the background is that the Grand Alliance container shipping lines will soon be negotiating a contract for a West Coast gateway. If Seattle is seen as an unreliable port, it could lose 25 percent of its business. That would fall hardest on the drayage drivers, as the cargo would likely go to a port with rail lines that run to dockside.

Port officials have been working behind the scenes to find a solution and claim rightly that they don’t have control over private companies and activities that happen off the port property. There’s not a lack of sympathy for these hurting drivers among port commissioners. But they are quickly finding themselves on the wrong side of a moral issue. And a bad outcome could put Seattle on the wrong side of competitiveness.

And Don’t Miss: The machines that made the jet age || Boing Boing

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Athens is burning

So why is the Dow so hot?

Here comes cold water

Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment, Labor unions, Occupy Seattle, Port of Seattle drivers shutdown, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Railroads, Trade


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