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Vol. 76/No. 11      March 19, 2012

On the Picket Line

We’re workers, not ‘contractors’
say Wash. state port truck drivers

OLYMPIA, Wash.—“The safety laws don’t apply to us because we are mislabeled as independent contractors,” port trucker Abdulaziz Ahmed testified at a state senate hearing here. “I want to be treated as an employee … so I can get the benefits that everybody else gets.”

Ahmed was one of 100 port truck drivers and their supporters at a Feb. 20 hearing on a bill to change that status.

By labeling the drivers independent contractors, the bosses are more easily able to block union organizing, deny workers’ compensation and put the legal responsibility for unsafe trailers and containers—owned by the trucking and shipping companies—on the drivers.

Four hundred truck drivers went on strike Jan. 31 to protest poor safety and working conditions, low pay, and lack of adequate bathrooms, among other complaints. The strikers, mostly Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants as well as Somalis and Sikhs from India, returned to work Feb. 15.

Several trucking companies agreed “to boost the pay per load from $40 to $44 a trip; to compensate drivers stuck in line more than an hour; and to pay for some trips drivers make when they have no load,” reported the Seattle Times.

Scott Hazlegrove, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association spokesperson, spoke against the bill, saying that customers select ports based on cost and certainty of goods movement, and that changing the drivers’ status “will negatively affect both factors.”

Also there in opposition to the bill were representatives of the Northwest Grocery Association, Washington Farm Bureau, Union Pacific Corp. railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. railroad. Representatives of the Teamsters and other unions attended to support the truckers.

Clay Dennison

Steel strikers in Greece stop
loaded truck from leaving plant

ASPROPYRGOS, Greece—About 1,500 strikers, family members and supporters rallied at the Elliniki Halivourgia steel plant here March 4. The rally was in response to an attempt by the company to remove material from the plant earlier in the week.

“The truck came on Feb. 28 and loaded the material,” Giorgos Sifonios, president of the union local, told the Militant. “We were not going to let it leave with its load. We didn’t let it leave until three days later. And it left empty!” Within the hour, the union mobilized 300 workers to expand the pickets at the plant.

A week earlier the company fired another 15 workers, putting the total number of firings since the start of the strike at 80.

“The fight is entering a more difficult phase. The state stands ready to openly assist the bosses,” Sifonios told the rally. “We have shown the power of collective action and of solidarity.”

The 400 steelworkers at the plant in this Athens suburb have been on strike for more than four months against moves to cut the workday to five hours, in essence a 40 percent pay cut.

Messages of support can be faxed to the union at: +302105578360.

Georges Mehrabian
and Natasha Terlexis

Rally demands Pomona College
rehire fired immigrant workers

CLAREMONT, Calif.—About 125 students, workers and professors marched and rallied at Pomona College here Feb. 24 to demand the college rehire 17 fired workers, 16 from the cafeteria. The college administration fired them after cafeteria workers began organizing a union, claiming they did not provide documentation on their immigration status.

“I worked here for 13 years,” Jose Garcia, one of the 17, told the Militant. “Some worked even longer than me. I am happy to see so many students and others supporting us.”

—Wendy Lyons

Related articles:
Vale disregarded safety hazard before mine deaths
Frame-up charges are ‘clear attack on union’
2 locked-out sugar workers say ‘not guilty’
Locked-out workers in UK fight ‘hand-picked’ layoffs  
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