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Teamsters organize truckers in Miami
Open hiring hall for independent owner-drivers
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Major U.S. unions to found new labor federation focused on organizing

A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 38October 3, 2005


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lead article
Teamsters organize truckers in Miami
Open hiring hall for independent owner-drivers
Teamsters organize truckers in Miami
Miami Herald/David Adame
Independent truckers fighting for union picket September 19 outside Port of Miami

MIAMI—Teamsters Local 769 opened a hiring hall here September 17 for truckers who haul containers from the Port of Miami, Port of Everglades, and local rail yards. It is the first such facility established as part of a national campaign that union officials say is aimed at organizing independent truckers and other drivers in the $80 billion container shipping industry.

“We are taking applications from drivers who have cancelled their independent contractor leases or who are not currently leased to motor carriers,” said Mike Scott, Local 769 president, according to a Teamsters press release. “Hundreds of drivers are telling us they want to work as employee owner operators with all the rights under U.S. labor law to which other employees are entitled.”

Shipping bosses began firing truckers who signed up with the union and predicted the effort would not take off among the 1,700 independent truckers in the area. “Nobody at this point is interested in participating with the Teamsters,” Mercy Torres, president of InterFlorida Container Transport, told the Miami Herald September 17.

Two days later, however, more than 350 independent truckers had signed up with the union, quitting their jobs in most cases to do so.

“It’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make,” driver Sandro Lerro told the press. “It’s not our choice. It’s the driving companies’ choice. We want better wages, but even before that we want dignity and respect.”

Drivers demonstrated at the entrance to the Port of Miami September 19, cheering on the handful of truckers who passed onto the port grounds with their rigs bearing the bright blue and yellow Teamster stickers. The union organized similar rallies later that week. The initial response has given momentum to the Teamsters organizing campaign and made the bosses concerned.

Richard Garcia owns Ricky Transport and regularly hires 58 independent drivers who own their own trucks. Garcia told the Miami Herald that he lost only three drivers to the union, but 25 had taken the day off September 19. At All Coast Intermodal, 8 percent of the truck drivers had taken the day off, according to company vice president Mike Payne.

Three trucking companies registered with the union over the September 17-18 weekend. Most bosses expressed hopes they would weather the conflict with few losses.

Mercy Torres, whose company contracts 34 independent truckers, said she fired two drivers for their plans to register at the union hall. Philip Abraira, president of the Florida Trucking Association, which represents 550 trucking companies statewide, said in response to the organizing drive, “I don’t know if there will be enough solidarity among independent contractors to pull something like this off.”

Teamsters officials said they plan to continue signing up drivers in coming weeks, which in effect would create a shortage of independent truckers that may force the companies to hire union members.

The organizing campaign here is the latest development in the ongoing fight by independent truckers against low wages, rising fuel costs, an insurance surcharge imposed on them by port authorities that is deducted from their paychecks, antiunion laws, and long unpaid waiting periods.

On August 10, a truck cab caravan and rally organized by the Teamsters and International Longshoremen’s Association drew more than 600 owner-operators.

More than 700 independent truckers at the Port of Miami staged a nearly two-week work stoppage in July 2004 until a federal judge ordered them to end their walkout.

That action coincided with a strike and job actions by truckers at Port Newark, New Jersey, and at the Port of New Orleans. It followed similar struggles by owner-operators in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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