A truckers’ work stoppage at the Port of Oakland held up some of the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s farm exports Monday. The protest halted commerce at one of the biggest terminals of the port, from where much of the valley’s farm exports are shipped to overseas markets.
The truckers, who are seeking more money for hauling goods to and from the port, took the action at a busy time for valley exports.
“It’s killing us right now,” said Ron Martella of Grower Direct Nut Co., a walnut processor near Hughson. “We’ve got walnuts coming out of our ears, and we can’t get them shipped.”
Nuts and fruits were the largest category of goods exported through Oakland last year, at a reported $2.58 billion in value, including walnuts, almonds and canned peaches from the north valley. Meat, wine, dairy products and other foods also were shipped out of Oakland in large volume.
Martella said he usually ships 12 to 15 large truckloads to the port each week, bound mainly for Japan, China and Germany. He can store walnuts while the weather is dry, but rain could pose a problem.
It was not clear whether the protest would continue today, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Port of Oakland Truckers Association, which represents about a quarter of the drivers who bring cargo to and from the port, organized the work stoppage.
The group is demanding that terminal owners help with the costly upgrades needed for trucks to comply with new environmental laws. The truckers also are asking to be paid when they have to wait for cargo loads for two hours or more.
“We’re all out here because we don’t make money sitting in lines for four hours,” said driver Armando Visperas of San Jose. “It’s not working out for us.”
Francisco Guzman, a trucker for 22 years, said that to comply with regulations, he would have to get a new truck or install upgrades on his 2002 rig. “They never listen to us; that’s why we’re here,” Guzman said.
The protesters – drivers who own and operate their own trucks – say the amount they get paid per load is the same as it was a decade ago, but they pay far more for diesel fuel and truck maintenance.
Truckers and their supporters picketed outside three entrances to the SSA Marine terminal and effectively shut down cargo traffic because crane operators and other terminal workers refused to cross the protest line.
About 100 protesters gathered before dawn. By 9a.m., the company that runs the terminal informed the port that it was closing down.
Siding with city officials, an Alameda County judge filed a temporary order last week that bars the protesters from interfering with cargo traffic. Still, the trucker group put out a call to labor activists and the Occupy movement over the weekend, inviting them to join the protest early Monday.
The union representing port terminal workers said it was sympathetic to the truckers’ economic plight but didn’t endorse a disruptive protest.
“They’re trying to use the port as an economic tool. I understand that, but the problem is, they hurt the area,” said Mike Villeggiante, who heads the ILWU Local 10. “People looking on the outside will think it’s not a reliable port.”
Port officials said they sympathized with the truckers’ concerns about long waits and said they have been working to fix those problems.
“We believe they’re raising some valid issues,” said port spokesman Isaac Kos-Reed. He said the new port director, Chris Lytle, has been meeting directly with some of the port’s 5,000 registered truck drivers, most of whom own their own trucks, and “is doing everything he can, the port is doing everything it can, to help get them what they want.”
But he added that “the long-term cost of these types of disruptions is significant in terms of the perception of the Port of Oakland as being a reliable gateway for commerce.”