by Nate Jackson When 200, mostly immigrant, Seattle short haul port truck drivers and hundreds of community members walk off the job and keep making noise, the truck companies that haul goods under the Port of Seattle’s unwatchful eyes can’t help but notice.
On Monday, February 13th port truck drivers staged a rally on the docks of Harbor Island right across from Terminal 18. Community members and economic justice organizations joined them with local media in tow on a self-organized rally and march to various transportation companies operating around the port.
Rahwa Habte of OneAmerica, an immigrant-focused democracy and human rights organization, took the stage at the rally. She translated the opening prayer from Tigrinya, an East African language, to English and then addressed the crowd.
“Someone in all our families came to America for a better life,” she said. “When we see the dream, the reasons fading we stand up and say no. We won’t let it happen to our chosen country, our city, or our port. We are not going away.”
Calvin, a Seattle port truck driver, stood in front of the 400 strong crowd and after adjusting the microphone to fit his tall height he looked up and smiled.
“I’ve been a truck driver for 20 years,” he said. “I’m proud of the work. We’re proud of the work, but we have to be safe. Safety is the number one issue. We are worth more than a damn container.”
Zacharias took off his camouflage baseball cap before tapping the microphone. He looked out at the crowd and steadied himself behind the podium.
“I’m not a public speaker,” he said. “But I have to speak up. In this country when you work hard you are supposed to be rewarded. We work hard; all of us, but the truck companies have forgotten their part.”
He tapped the microphone again and cleared his throat.
“We walked out because we’ve had enough, but we don’t want to hurt this beautiful city,” he said. “We want to be a productive part of this city we love. Let’s show our strength and they (the trucking companies) will come to us.”
The crowd then marched to various trucking companies near Terminal 18, lead by volunteers in fluorescent yellow caution vests. They marched and chanted crossing streets underneath the West Seattle bridge and in sight of I-5. The trucking companies weren’t happy to see them.
The companies were already scrambling after the three week walk-out made the port move like molasses. The port truck drivers walked off the job to highlight the unsafe work conditions and unfair employee practices of some of the truck companies operating under the absentee authority of the Port of Seattle.
There were cargo vessels sitting aimlessly in the harbor, backed up containers at rail yards and Port of Seattle executives desperately trying to reach out to these workers.
In the end it wasn’t the pleas of executives that made the difference. It was the drivers themselves though persistent action backed up by broad community support that pushed the trucking companies to start to address some of the port truck drivers’ concerns.
A new set of rules?
After their work stoppage slowed down the port and became a major story in the news, the truck companies and the Port of Seattle started discussions with them, and the drivers decided to return to work. But this time the big shipping companies and the people who run our publicly-owned port know they have to start playing the game by a new set of rules. Rules made and agreed to by both sides.