Truckers organize with IWW

Published 2:38 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

By Staff
Truckers protest; ask for more pay, better job security
Staff Writer
A group of local truckers are trying their hand at collective bargaining, hoping to get better pay and other concessions from Weyerhaeuser Company. They held brief protests Monday morning in Vanceboro, Plymouth and the state of Washington.
Company officials said the protests were small and that the truckers should be lobbying the companies they individually contract with.
Little, who goes by the handle “Preacher,” is a container hauler, which means that he pulls closed trailers full of finished product from mills. The movement also involves drivers who carry logs from the forests to the plants.
The new group is an affiliate of IWW’s Industrial Union 530.
Little said he was one of about a dozen people picketing at the Vanceboro plant. The truckers “still have a lot of work to do” in Plymouth, but several logging companies didn’t want to send log trucks across the picket lines, resulting in a slow morning for Weyerhaeuser until the protest broke up at 10 a.m., he said.
Nancy Thompson, a spokeswoman for Weyerhaeuser, downplayed the size of the protest.
On the other side of the country, in Washington state, Drew Robertson, a designated field representative with IWW, handed a list of demands to a company executive during the picketing there, he said.
Company officials had complained that they hadn’t yet received a concrete list of demands.
That list of demands included job security for truckers if the company changes trucking contractors, more consistent payment of safety bonuses, pay for cleaning containers, a fuel surcharge, pay for time spent waiting in line and regular meetings with management.
But when the question becomes who they should make a stand against, things get messy.
Weyerhauser officials are quick to point out that the company doesn’t actually employ the drivers, who are officially listed as independent subcontractors.
Since the drivers aren’t actually Weyerhaeuser employees, their new organization isn’t technically a union.
As a union of what are essentially independent businesses, they could be accused of ganging up on Weyerhaeuser, making their actions legally the same as organized price gouging, he said.
Instead, the group is called the United Truckers Cooperative of North Carolina and is based on a model recently used with success by truckers in the state of Washington, Robertson said.
But even though the cooperative isn’t a union, and the truckers don’t work directly for Weyerhaeuser, Little said the company is still the right entity to lobby.
Robertson said the company’s handling of safety bonuses is an example of the ways in which it treats truckers like employees.
He said the company promises truckers safety bonuses, and uses company employees to check whether drivers are following safety rules.
But he said the company often doesn’t pay the promised sums.
Thompson said she didn’t have any information on safety bonuses.
And organizers said policies not directly enforced by Weyerhaeuser are at least tacitly condoned by the corporation.
Little said the company he subcontracts for, Charlotte-based Bridge Terminal Transport Inc., must ultimately bow to terms Weyerhaeuser sets.
A total of 16 companies of varying sizes have trucking contracts with Weyerhauser, according to Thompson.
The cooperative is hoping to get Weyerhaeuser to strike deals with those contractors that are more favorable to truckers. The truckers also hope the company will disclose the terms of those deals. That would allow the truckers to negotiate more effectively with the contractors.
One example of the difficulties truckers said they face in negotiations with contractors is fuel surcharges.
The surcharges are extra fees, often passed on to consumers, to cover the cost of fuel.
Local truckers typically don’t receive any fuel surcharges, Robertson said. One of the group’s demands is a 100 percent fuel surcharge to be passed on to the truckers, who actually buy the fuel.
But Thompson said the company does pay fuel surcharges to the contractors, based on a fuel index.
The truckers aren’t receiving them, Robertson said.
Little said the truckers tried to have shutdowns on their own, without involving a union. They got what he described as a “token raise” of $15 per load.
Now, the cooperative is waiting for a meeting with company officials. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll escalate their protests, Robertson said.