Hundreds of truck drivers at the Port of Seattle shut down their rigs last week to protest unsafe working conditions. In addition, more than 150 port drivers traveled to the state capitol Monday to support a bill allowing them the ability to inspect containers and refuse overweight loads.
Drivers were supported by Washington state troopers who also testified before state legislature representatives of the chronic dangers in the state’s drayage industry. In 2011 alone, 58% of cargo vehicles were deemed unsafe by authorities, according to Capt. Jason Berry, who said that at one point in the last year, 80% of the entire fleet at the port was prevented from operating due to disrepair, according to reports.
“Our work is extremely dangerous. So the safety laws are very important,” Semere Woldu, a driver at the port, said in an In These Times report. “Unfortunately though, we drivers are forced to pay for violations that we are not responsible for. We often get tickets or are cited for faulty equipment that we don’t own. One time, my boss knew I had a heavy load. He told me to go by the scale early in the morning when it was closed to avoid having the load weighed.”
An estimated 300 to 400 port truck drivers walked off the job last week, complaining that conditions make their trucks unsafe. Since then, hundreds of drivers who serve the Port’s largest shipping companies have refused to return to work, in spite of repeated threats from owners, according to the Puget Sound Sage.
“It’s very dangerous for the public,” truck driver Demeke Meconnen, told King5 News, “It’s very dangerous for me. But I have to provide food for my family.”
“When these drivers, mostly immigrants, returned to their jobs, they endured intimidation, harassment and retaliation. They were called ‘animals’ by their dispatchers and one of the leaders was suspended from work—punished for organizing the trip to the state legislature,” the Sage reported.
Some drivers have reportedly been dismissed for their participation in the shutdown.
The Port drivers “are at the fulcrum of our economic recovery,” said David West, executive director of Puget Sound Sage. “But they do not share in industry prosperity because the system is fixed against them. They work in sweatshops on wheels.”