Port truck drivers picket in Los Angeles and Long Beach; ILWU says its members dismissed at Oakland Terminal.

Drivers who work for two drayage companies that deliver and pick up containers from terminals in the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach have resumed protests today.

The protests come as the nation’s two largest container ports are already snarled with large numbers of containers at terminals and are having difficulties getting containers in and out of the facilities because of heavy holiday volumes and shortages of chassis. A myriad of other problems are leading to the congestion, not the least of which are actions by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. 

The Pacific Maritime Association, which represents ILWU employers, said the union, after using orchestrated job actions to cripple terminal operations at Pacific Northwest ports, last week “targeted the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by unilaterally refusing to dispatch hundreds of qualified, skilled workers for critically important positions transporting containers in terminal yards.”

Congestion at terminals in Southern California is also preventing ships from going to berth immediately. This morning there were nine container vessels at anchorage outside the two ports, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

   westcoastThe Teamsters-affiliated group Justice for Port Truck Drivers said that they planned to put pickets up at a half dozen facilities in the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach: Yusen Terminals Inc., APL/Global Gateway South, Long Beach Container Terminal, Evergreen Container Terminal, Hanjin/Total Terminals International, and Maersk/APM Terminal Pier 400. The group said the protests are a resumption of a strike they held in July at marine terminals and trucking yards. They said they have decided to restart the protests because of what they claim are “egregious violations” to a cooling-off period brokered in July by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The drivers had attended a meeting of the Harbor Commission of the Port of Los Angeles last week.  Port truck drivers from two drayage firms –Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI) and Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9) — resumed picketing at company offices and marine terminals at the two ports through which 40 percent of U.S. imports move.

In July, the drivers went on what they said would be an indefinite strike “to protest severe and continuing labor law violations.” It was their fourth protest in a year.

After five days of picketing, Garcetti brokered a cooling-off period, which the Teamster group said included an agreement by companies to accept all drivers back to work.

“Despite commitments to Mayor Garcetti, the companies have dramatically escalated retaliatory activity, clearly violating the terms of the cooling-off period. These retaliations include the firing of 35 drivers by TTSI for refusing the withdraw their claims for wage theft and publicly denouncing the Teamsters Union, and a dramatic increase in illegal deductions from driver paychecks by Pac 9, leaving some drivers with negative paychecks — and many working below minimum wage,” said Justice for Port Drivers.

A third company targeted in the July protests, Green Fleet Systems (GFS), has “agreed to remain in the cooling-off period as productive discussions, which began during the course of litigation, are continuing between the company owner and the Teamsters union,” the port driver group said.

Last month, Green Fleet was ordered by a federal court to return to driver to work. Barb Maynard, a spokesman for Justice for Port Drivers, said she did not know exactly how many drivers would participate in the protests or whether ILWU members would honor them as the picket lines were just being put in place this morning.  The group is planning a press conference at noon at the Wilmington Waterfront Park. 

Meanwhile in the Port of Oakland, the ILWU said Wednesday afternoon that workers at the Stevedoring Services of America terminal were dismissed for the remainder of their shift. SSA operates the Oakland International Container Terminal.  The Port of Oakland confirmed that SSA had told it that the Oakland International Container Terminal was closed Wednesday afternoon, but said it was fully operational Thursday and the employees are back at work.

“SSA didn’t follow the proper rules for ordering workers this morning, and when workers questioned the company’s decision not to follow the usual procedures, SSA summarily fired those workers,” said Craig Merrilees, communications director for the ILWU. “When the remaining workers raised questions, they were immediately fired along with the others.” It was not clear how many workers were fired.

The ILWU was scheduled to meet Wednesday morning with the Pacific Maritime Association, the organization that is negotiating a new contract for employers with the ILWU. They are trying to agree to a new contract to replace one that expired on July 1.

Neither the PMA nor SSA was reachable for a comment immediately.

Merrilees said, “The ILWU is committed to negotiating a contract as soon as possible that would end these kind of employer abuses.”

Correction: The ILWU clarified that workers at the Stevedoring Services of America terminal at the Port of Oakland were dismissed for the remainder of their shifts Wednesday, and they did not lose their jobs.