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Jon Talton

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

Category: Port of Seattle drivers shutdown
April 8, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Keep on truckin’ — view from a tough business

Last week I wrote a commentary on the deplorable working conditions of short-haul truckers at the Port of Seattle. The drivers, who face rotten wages and lack of benefits, are also only allowed to use two portable toilets at the terminal entrance. This brought an interesting response from my go-to guy in the trucking industry, Steve Gordon of Pacific-based Gordon Trucking. He said I “should keep in mind those deplorable restroom facilities are not at all uncommon in our industry in general.”

There are plenty of loading docks at Fortune 500 companies where we do work regularly where our relatively more “professional” drivers in our segment of the business are told that the restrooms aren’t for them.  Then to add the cherry on top, you get municipalities like those down here in the Sumner/Auburn/Kent valley that have ok’d lots of warehousing, but won’t OK a truck stop or rest area.

Where do they think truck drivers are supposed to park and take rest breaks? They can’t merely levitate outside these facilities for hours on end. So we then end up with trucks parked on freeway off ramps and city streets, neither of which is a good thing, further reinforcing that negative perception and making it less likely to get an adequate facility.

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April 2, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Injustice on the waterfront

Short-haul truckers at Terminal 30 are expected to use port-a-potties, right, instead of a dockside restroom. Officials say it’s for safety reasons. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Short-haul truckers at Terminal 30 are expected to use port-a-potties, right, instead of a dockside restroom. Officials say it’s for safety reasons. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Officials at the Port of Seattle continue to show a strange tone-deafness about the working conditions of short-haul truckers. As the Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom reports, these drivers are barred from using the restrooms at the Terminal 30 office building. Instead, they must use two portable toilets near the terminal exit. The Port, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 and terminal operator SSA Marine maintain that it’s a safety issue. The truckers can’t be stopping and walking to the regular restrooms. They might be run over. But they’re already being run over by this nightmare of an American Dream. Two porta potties to serve dozens of drivers, without even a place to wash their hands? That these drivers are mostly African immigrants adds an unfortunate racial dimension to a dispute in this supposedly liberal city.

The controversy is not new. It was one of the issues, along with pay, safety, working conditions and liability that prompted a walkout by 400 of these drayage truckers last year. In both cases, Port officials say, essentially, “not our problem.” If they speak at all. Considering that the protest happened during sensitive negotiations with the Grand Alliance container lines — which ended up moving from Seattle to the Port of Tacoma, ultimately taking about 20 percent of the container business — I’d suggest it is the Port’s problem just from a business standpoint. The walkout was not an inevitable outcome because of those mean old Teamsters, who want to organize the drayage drivers. It was a result of the Port’s inert response to a long-standing problem, always with an excuse that the drivers are “independent contractors” (only technically), or it has no control over the trucking companies and terminal operators.

How’d that work out for you? In fact, for a port with little dockside rail service, these drivers hauling containers to rail terminals are actually a highly important component of the Port’s competitiveness. The response: Two plastic outhouses. There’s not enough resources to invest in a real restroom facility near the gate? Shameful. And stupid. You can’t blame Chris Hansen and the proposed Sodo arena for this one.

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August 29, 2012 at 9:50 AM

What is the Port of Seattle thinking?

As we head up to Labor Day, it’s good to know that at least one guy has a job. Two, actually. Tay Yoshitani has his position as chief executive of the Port of Seattle, paying almost $367,000 a year. Now he’s also a board member of Expeditors International, making another $230,000.

Not surprisingly, the side gig is being questioned by 13 King County legislators. In a letter to port commissioners, the lawmakers state, “It appears to the public that Mr. Yoshitani may directly and personally benefit by giving Expeditors’ customers a competitive advantage over other Port of Seattle customers,” the letter states. “[A]s Port CEO he has the power to prioritize his personal profit over the public mission of the taxpayer-supported Port of Seattle.”

The port’s response? No problem. Yoshitani’s contract allows him to serve on corporate boards on his own time. And, according to Commissioner Tom Albro, the Expeditors position “was reviewed by the port’s general counsel to ensure compliance with the port’s Code of Conduct for employees and for any potential conflict of interest before he joined the board.” I’m not a lawyer, but this doesn’t pass the smell test, much less the common sense test.

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July 12, 2012 at 9:30 AM

The arena and the port

Amid the legitimate scrutiny, honest differences of opinion, deliberate misinformation, hidden agendas and outright hysteria over the proposed Seattle arena, one thing puzzles me the most: Why would the Port of Seattle choose to take an aggressive stance that will make it come away as the “arena killer” if successful? Why risk alienating a huge base of arena supporters who are also needed to back the port?

I’m not convinced traffic is going to be that big a deal. Seattle already needs to make infrastructure improvements, arena or no, to help access to the port, especially a Lander overpass. And where was the port outcry when the high-rises were being approved for the area around King Street Station? They will produce — cue gasps — traffic. If one chooses to drive.

I can only guess. Hedge-fund boss Chris Hansen made a tactical error in not approaching port commissioners and officials before rolling out the plan. But the arena is really a proxy for deeper anxieties trending to panic for the seaport. With the loss of the Grand Alliance and Hamburg Sud shipping lines to the Port of Tacoma, Seattle will see a decline of about 20 percent in its container business.

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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.

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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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