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(en) US, Stockton Truckers Join IWW*, Win 2-Day Strike By Adam Welch, Motor Transport Workers Organizing Committee

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(adam_freedom-A-yahoo.com)
Date Mon, 4 Oct 2004 15:42:28 +0200 (CEST)

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Published in the Industrial Worker, October 2004
More than 200 Stockton owner-operator truckers working
out of the rail yards in California’s Central Valley
have joined the IWW since July and won several
victories. In the past few weeks the union has
successfully worked to reverse two IWW members’
life-time banishments from the Burlington
Northern-Santa Fe rail yard and negotiated a favorable
settlement of a strike at the 11-driver Patriot
trucking company.

The truckers are now preparing to take on the issue of
the wait times they are forced to endure without pay,
which can run up to two hours for an increasing number
of drivers, and also fighting against short paychecks.
“The truckers are fighting every single day to get
their money,” said one trucker.

Some 250 truckers in Stockton work for the rail yards
and are considered independent contractors who lease
the trucks they own to the companies they work for.
Nearly 85 percent are Sikh Indians from the Punjab
region of India. The work force also includes a number
of Latino and some Filipino, Cambodian, Middle
Eastern, black and white drivers.

In early May a strike broke out among West Coast
truckers over the increasingly high fuel prices that
drivers are forced to pay out their own pockets. The
Stockton truckers claim to have been the first group
strike. “Fuel was the main problem then. The companies
were getting a fuel surcharge, but they weren’t
passing this along to the drivers,” said trucker Gurp
Singh, 25, who has been driving for four years and
came to the U.S. from India when he was 16 years old.

The strike lasted for two weeks and made significant
gains, including 20 to 25 percent increases in the
rates paid per load delivered and a reduction of
unpaid wait times to a maximum of one hour. “When
everyone stands together they pretty much have no
choice. What are they going to do?” says Singh,
recalling the May strike. However, nearly 30 companies
in Stockton compete with each other for the business
of the rail yards, and this competition has slowly
eroded some of the gains of the May strike.

Joining the union
A month after the May strike, Stockton truckers
contacted the Industrial Workers of the World, and Bay
Area organizers Bruce Valde, Adam Welch and Harjit
Gill met with 45 drivers in the library of the
Stockton Sikh temple. After an intense discussion
entirely in Punjabi, the drivers voted to go with the
union. All those attending the meeting immediately
joined, and the truckers began working to sign up
their co-workers.

Deciding factors in the decision were the IWWs
previous experience organizing with independent
contractors, that the union would address drivers’
individual as well as collective grievances, and the
presence of a native Punjabi speaker, IWW organizer
Harjit Gill. “It felt good to be helping two
communities at the same time the IWW and people who
are from the same country and ethnicity my family is
from,” said Gill.

Bay Area organizers were then invited to spend two
days under a tree near a Highway 5 off ramp to sign
members up. Local leaders of the truckers got on their
CB radios, Nextel phones and even created a home-made
sign with a piece of cardboard and sharpie marker that
they waved on the side of the road, flagging drivers
down to stop and take out membership cards. The sign
read, ‘Truck driver stop for fill up application for
union.’ On the first day, nearly 90 truckers were
signed up off the hood of a car.

Fighting “banned for life”
A follow-up meeting was then organized where members
discussed several issues and heard the story of union
member Vijay Kashatria, who received a lifetime ban
from a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe rail yard cop when
he disputed a ticket for running a stop sign. The
drivers voted on a plan of action to win their fellow
worker’s job back.

After being contacted by the IWW, BNSF manager Bob
Tooke claimed he had no record of the incident and
that Kashatria was free to resume work.
African-American member Robert Wooten also suffered a
lifetime ban shortly after this when he attempted to
have BNSF document pre-existing damage to a container
load he was about to haul. Unhappy to see him speaking
up, a rail cop asked to see his ID and Wooten refused.
That ban, too, was quickly reversed.

Singh says after the incident he and other drivers
made phone calls to spread the news of the victories.
“Everyone was pretty much excited by it. It was only
the second time ever,” that a lifetime ban had been
reversed, he said. Rail yards routinely bar truckers
from working in the rail yards for three, seven or
even thirty days for minor infractions of the rules.

Patriot strike wins demands
Not being able to tolerate rate cuts and unfair
treatment, a strike erupted at the 11-driver Patriot
trucking company Sept. 13. Dewey Obtinalla said that
these conditions, “ignited these people to go with
it.” After two days of striking, Patriot manager Casey
Stevenson drove his pickup truck out to the field
where the drivers had gathered during the strike and
signed an agreement meeting about 70 percent of the
drivers’ 14 demands. “We feel it’s a victory for us.
It’s not that big, but it’s better than what we had.
After they talk nice with the [truckers]. That’s the
real victory for us, that we’re treated properly,”
Obtinalla said.

Patriot workers also recalled an incident where the
manager had told the Indian drivers that they could
not speak their own language in the company office.
“The drivers didn¹t believe it was devoid of racism
and neither did I,” said Gill.

Waiting without pay
Now the drivers are preparing to demand all companies
return to the one-hour wait time they agreed to during
the May strike. After delivering a load to a customer,
drivers are forced to wait between one and two hours
without pay during the unloading process. After the
period of unpaid wait time, drivers receive $35 to $45
for each additional hour that is charged directly to
the customer.

“They are being lazy, that’s part of it. But they are
used to having that power over the drivers. They go
treating you like some kind of animal … They want you
to do the work for free, and if you refuse they tell
you to go home,” Singh says on the wait times.

Companies are constantly in competition with each
other to be awarded work from the brokers, who make
commission acting as middlemen between the companies
and the rail yard and their customers. Companies that
still have the one hour wait time are losing business
to companies with two-hour waits, putting them under
pressure to increase their unpaid wait time. “A few
truckers can stop working and the boss is ready to
negotiate. Truckers have a lot of power in the
industry they are in,” says organizer Valde, “and the
IWW is behind these workers using that.”

Support the fight of the Stockton truckers!
Organizers are asking for donations toward organizing
expenses and to create a hardship fund. Make checks or
money orders out to: “Bay Area IWW,” PO Box 11412,
Berkeley CA 94712.

Contact the IU 530 Motor Transport Workers Organizing
Committee at: troquero@iww.org

This article originally appeared in the Industrial
Worker, the newspaper of the IWW. To get regular news
on radical labor organizing subscribe today! Make
checks or money orders payable to “IWW.” $15 for 10
issues per year. Industrial Worker, PO Box 13476,
Philadelphia, PA 19101, USA
* [Ed. Note: IWW is antiauthoritarian anticapitalist
direct action social struggle syndicalist union.]

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