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February 13, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Port truckers gain support at rally along the Duwamish

Independent Port truckers walked off the job and marched to SSA Marine with demands after a rally, Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, in Seattle. (Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)


About 300 truckers, unionists and supporters rallied this morning along the Duwamish Waterway in Seattle, as the truckers’ walkout continues at the Port of Seattle.

Container trade relies on hundreds of drivers, often east African immigrants, who are paid $40 to $44 a load to drive one or two miles between the docks and railyards. They lack health insurance, workers compensation for injuries, or even restrooms at the port terminals.

Some of the strikers already have lost their jobs, because hauling companies’ accounts were canceled, said driver Yonas Tibebu, standing in a planter box along lower Spokane Street. Commerce has slowed, Port Commissioner Rob Holland said last week at another demonstration. Drivers are dispatched by dozens of private companies, not by the Port directly.

“I don’t know how much longer we can stretch it,” Tibebu said. The walkout began Jan. 31.

Still, Tibebu thought the rally was helpful. “The media are here. Not only truck drivers, you see a lot of supporters. It makes a difference.”

Puget Sound Sage, a group organizing the rally, has started a food drive for the truckers. Strictly speaking, they are not on strike because they are independent contractors, not union members. Teamsters Union is trying to organize them, and two reform bills are moving through the state Legislature.

Dave Freiboth, executive secretary of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, said before the rally that the Port of Seattle should cooperate with pro-trucker commissioners in Los Angeles to require higher working conditions and collective bargaining rights, instead of racing to the bottom. “There’s enough wealth in this system, in the money that goes through the port, to give this group a living wage job,” he said.

The Seattle port recently broke yearly records for container shipments. Some leaders have said that competition is fierce and Seattle would lose business to Canadian or Gulf ports, if it unilaterally added rules or costs to the shipping industry.

Comments | More in Business/Technology, General news | Topics: port, strike, truckers

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