Running on Fumes: Snippets from the Port of Seattle

FEBRUARY 9, 2012
posted by Joy Ride 

It’s Day 10. There are so many things happening at the Port of Seattle – but business-as-usual work ain’t one of them.

Like always, Puget Sound’s port truck drivers are busting their humps ‘round the clock, but instead of hustling cargo under unjust and unsafe conditions, these normally voiceless workers are holding meetings, taking votes, making signs, taking names, calling legislators, staging actions, granting interviews, sending delegations…in other words, they are organizing themselves.

And it is increasingly evident that port operations are running on fumes as a result.

Containers are normally stacked only two or three high. Now every stack climbs to four or five units tall. The chronically congested, seemingly endless terminal lines are gone, replaced by skimpy truck queues maybe 10 or 11 rigs deep. Ships that look as lonely as they are large can be spotted from Highway 99, idling in Puget Sound. Those are the ocean liners that can’t unload cargo or receive exports because there are too few drivers to move the shipments. Several trucking companies have gates closed or chains around their fences to yards that are normally only locked at night.

“It’s beginning to seem like a ghost town because all last week I didn’t see a single truck come through from the major cargo haulers at the port. Seattle Freight, Pacer, Western Ports, none of them! This does mean less work for some of us, but me and the guys here get it. We all work at the same port, handle the same freight containers, and want the same things for our families. It’s not right that we have dignity while they are treated like dirt,” observed BG Lemmon, a railroad yard contractor and single father of five from Tukwila.

The intermodal machine operator with 26 years at the port paused, before adding: “If I were forced to take safety shortcuts, I’d grab my coworkers and walk off the job too. They’re making a huge sacrifice. Maybe their companies don’t respect them, but all of us here at the railroad sure as hell do.”

See for yourself here. More photos will be added to this Flickr gallery soon, and if you’re local send me yours with captions too.

Wait, are you still getting up to speed? 

Sorry, these drivers are moving sooooo fast, maybe I am too…here’s the blog that broke the story. But in a nutshell: Roughly 120 of Seattle’s port truck drivers self-organized and sacrificed a day’s wages on Monday, January 30 to make a trek to the state capitol. They passionately support a pair of bills that would make owners of faulty equipment responsible for road hazards that cost lives, and wipe out the Wall Street-like self-employment scheme that transportation businesses use to defraud blue-collar workers, cheat on taxes, and skirt safety and environmental regulations.

Waterfront employers reacted harshly. The local NPR station reported:  (more…)