James Harris (left), Socialist Work-ers Party candidate for mayor of Atlanta, shows Militant October 8 to trucker at roadside stop on highway from Atlanta to Charleston, South Carolina, where Teamsters union is opening effort to organize owner-drivers.
These steps follow initial successes of a nationwide campaign that began September 17 in Miami. The Teamsters there have signed up more than 500 owner-operators, most of whom have been dispatched to jobs in that area through the union hiring hall in Miami.
The union has begun setting up its hiring hall here in the headquarters of the International Longshoremens Association (ILA), which has a militant record in the recent past. In the year 2000, unionized dockworkers in Charleston beat back efforts by the bosses to unload ships with nonunion labor.
I think we are having great success, Teamsters Port Division representative Jim Stewart said in an October 8 phone interview. Stewart told the Militant he was on route to Savannah from Charleston. There are about 4,000 independent truckers in the Charleston and Savannah areas who would be eligible to join the Teamsters, Stewart said. The union has already collected hundreds of profiles of drivers who have indicated theyd like to join. A driver who joins the union has to officially terminate current leasing agreements with shipping companies.
According to a flyer produced by the Teamsters Port Division in Miami, To get the protection offered to workers under United States Labor Law, you must insist on being hired as an employee owner-operator, not as an independent contractor.
Owner-operators face rising fuel and maintenance prices. Leasing agreements allow the companies to determine what they pay drivers for a trip. The bosses have also been collecting fuel surcharges from customers of up to 20 percent because of the rising cost of diesel. But the money never gets to the drivers, independent truckers here said.
A fact sheet distributed by the Teamsters port division says: Since trucking deregulation in the early 1980s, port drivers have faced the lowest wages in the industry (rates have actually declined over the last 20 years), while they must shoulder the ever-surging costs of insurance, maintenance, and fuel. Like share-croppers in the old American South, port drivers assume all the risk for a fraction of the gain and consequently have the highest turnover (over 150 percent) of any truck driver in the United States (unionized trucker turnover rate is 2-3%). The average independent port driver has no health insurance, no pension, no paid vacations or holidays, and after expenses grosses between $7.00 and $8.00 per hour.
The port authority brags that they provide 120,000 wonderful jobs in the area, said Stewart, referring to Savannah. But these are 120,000 temporary jobs at minimal pay. People are barely getting by. One of the things they are really worried about is that if the truckers are organized maybe the inside workers will be next. This really scares them.
A lot of drivers are not making enough to stay in business, said Arthur Chisolm, a longtime owner-operator in the Charleston area and one of the Teamsters working to set up the hiring hall. They do what they have to do to get bythey borrow money, they buy gas by guessing what they need to make a trip.
Bill Campbell, an owner-operator also working on the hiring hall, said the fight to organize truckers in the area was not a new one. He has been involved in organizing activities for years. It has lost me two jobs, thousands of dollars, and almost my family, Campbell said. Ive let runs sit at the port to pass out flyers for the union. But this is a fight we are going to win.
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