Stepping Up To The Plate

It was just over two years ago that we first recalled Mr. Michael B. Belzer’s warning … September 30th, 2004, to be exact … and it was more than six years ago that he actually spoke those words.

In February 2000, at a seminar sponsored by the Transportation Research Board, Mr. Belzer, of the University of Michigan’s Institute of Labor Relations, cited the low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions and recent rise (even back then) in fuel costs. He went on to emphasize that because harbor truck drivers are paid by the trip, rather than by the hour, and because they were not being compensated for the time being spent waiting at congested port terminals, many owner-operators have left the industry and have contributed to the severe driver shortage at our seaports. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why there is a labor shortage”, he said.

Analysts like Michael Belzer weren’t the only ones concerned about this crisis. Ron Carver of the Teamsters’ port division once addressed this situation by referring to owner-operated trucks as “rolling sweatshops”. And Chuck Mack, director of the Teamsters Union’s port division was quoted as saying, “Conditions are so bad that the turnover rate among these port drivers exceeds 150 percent per year as they cycle in and out of the industry … It’s perplexing why no one is stepping up to the plate. Everyone is afraid to make the first move.”

We’ve stated publicly, on more occasions than we can count … and to those in a position to “make the first move”… that we’re ready, willing and able to step up to the plate. We’ve spelled out clearly that our patented system, when retrofitted at the major container ports, will solve once and for all, not only the labor shortage among harbor truck drivers, but also every other problem caused by the imbedded and primitive methods still employed in US container terminal operations.

“Is anyone listening?” we’ve been asking. Of course they’ve been listening. And we’ve heard the alibis given in response to the information we’ve provided them. “I’ve been appointed by the governor, and I can’t employ your patented system unless I can point to its successful use in some other port,” is the only legitimate sounding excuse we’ve heard up to now. It’s also a convenient alibi for those whose main concern is the perpetuation of their plush jobs. Risk-taking would be too, well … risky.

And the governor(s)? They throw the hot potato back in the hands of their powerless appointees. These governors, of course, are also political appointees of sorts who know absolutely nothing about container terminals and have no intention of setting some time aside to study the industry. Too many of them serve their terms by avoiding complications and falling back on that worn-out platitude, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Well, who tells the governor that his terminals ain’t broke? The Port Director tells him, that’s who. The one who’s been appointed by the governor, the one who doesn’t want the failings on his watch to be known, and the one who also relies on the platitude just cited.
[Well, fellas … it is indeed broke. And if you don’t “make the first move”and give us permission to “step up to the plate”, you’ll soon be updating your resumes.]