Braking Point

California’s Senate Committee on Labor & Industrial Relations and the Assembly Committee on Labor & Employment held a joint hearing last week to investigate the developing crisis in the “inland transportation leg of international container shipping”. Trucking, in other words.

“Public attention has been focused on the huge number of ships unable to gain access to Southern California port terminals,” said Chuck Mack, director of the Teamsters Port Division. “The real crisis affecting traffic congestion, deteriorating air quality, and highway safety are critical problems created by the shipping industries ability to thwart government oversight and regulation. Hopefully this hearing will mark the turning point.”

Port truckers addressed the causes of these crises, explaining how they spend several hours a day idling their trucks when they are waiting for containers, bringing about forced delays which have had a severe environmental impact on the port and surrounding communities. “The drivers are constantly waiting three to four to six hours,” said Miguel Lopez, the Teamsters representative in the port. “I’m looking at the testimony of one driver who spent 11 hours waiting in a terminal to get a load discharged. These guys are losing substantial amounts of time they aren’t getting paid for.”
In addressing the Senate and Assembly committees, members of the California Trucking Association presented their long-held grievances:
• Truckers are paid by the load, not by the hour, and their earnings are unjustly reduced when forced to wait in terminal lines for their designated containers.
• Companies that lease trucks to port drivers are taking a bigger hit through fees assessed by the terminals for picking up and returning containers late.
• These so-called “demurrage” and “detention” fees are about $ 60 a day and significantly cut into the profit margins of the trucking firms and the rates paid to their drivers.
• Traffic congestion caused by operations within the port makes the fees unfair.

“This is the fastest growing and possibly most profitable industry in the globalized economy,” stated Mr. Mack. “There is no reason the foreign-owned steamship lines and the giant retailers should not be held accountable for the hazards that the chaotic inland transportation system poses to the general public.”

“This is beyond a trucking-industry problem,” said Patty Senecal, vice president of Transport Express. “When the yield per truck is so significantly reduced because of the velocity the terminals are processing the trucks, it’s unfair to hit us with late fees,” she said. “Our concern and fear is a continued driver shortage. There’s a nationwide driver shortage, but you have to have trucks. We are a critical link, and we’re the weakest link.”

[Well, maybe so. Now let’s examine the sources of the stress being placed upon this “weakest” link. By pinpointing the causes of this crisis, we can zero in on a cure. A guaranteed cure this time.]