As Immigrants Strike, Truckers Shut Down Nation’s Largest Port

Los Angeles truckers struck in solidarity with immigrants and over their own working conditions. Photo: Axel Koester

During the countdown to the May Day immigrant walkouts, transportation industry commentators worried about the impact that immigrant strikes would have on the nation’s ports. Many feared repeats of the 2004 and 2005 strikes by mostly immigrant Latino port truckers (or troqueros), which crippled freight traffic up and down the West Coast.

Troqueros at the nation’s largest port complex, Los Angeles/Long Beach, did not disappoint.

L.A. SHUT DOWN

The thousands of tons of goods that flow daily from the two combined ports came to a near, shuddering halt on May 1. Over 90 percent of the 12,000 truckers who service the port refused to come in to work, according to the California Trucking Association. Port terminal operators confirmed that 80-90 percent of truck traffic was halted for the day.

At mid-morning the next day the port was still running at only 20 percent capacity, as drivers trickled back to work. Line haul drivers (who shuttle freight containers over longer routes between ports and rail yards) are also believed to have refused work that day throughout Southern California, further congesting traffic throughout the system.

Drivers as far away as Las Vegas and Phoenix were also reported to have refused containers along the overland freight corridor to the L.A./Long Beach port, as part of the shutdown.

“The work stoppage flowed down the line,” said Ernesto Nevarez, an organizer who has worked with California port truckers for 20 years. “It didn’t stop because the harbor simply shut down—it was caused by truckers, by labor. They made it happen with their own organizing.”

While rising fuel costs—a major cause of previous walkouts—are once again pushing drivers to action, troqueros have other concerns. Troqueros shoulder most of their own fuel, insurance, maintenance, and truck finance payments, while making an average wage of only $11.33 per hour from shippers and other contractors.

“It isn’t just about the price of diesel fuel—troqueros haven’t seen cost of living increases since their strike in 1993,” said Nevarez. “Many are working double shifts or a shift and a half to make up the difference.”

ANGER OVER RAIDS

Though they are non-union, port truckers’ location at a vulnerable point in the over-stretched freight distribution network gives them tremendous power. On May 1, this shop floor power turned into an expression of anger at their own work conditions and solidarity with the immigrant rights movement.

Indeed, although many troqueros in the Los Angeles area have work visas or have been naturalized, some of the impetus for the action came from a familiar source of anger for many immigrant workers—aggressive raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Two weeks before May 1, a line of 50 trucks was held up during one such raid. A number of drivers lacking full documentation on their person at the time were pulled out of their cabs and their trucks were towed away.

“Anger exploded over the raid,” said Nevarez. “Before all this we were expecting at best a 30 percent shutdown of the harbor.”

More port actions are expected during the summer as gas prices—and troqueros’ frustrations—continue to rise.