OAKLAND -- Truckers shut down a major terminal at the Port of Oakland and blocked access to several more Monday to protest repeated logjams that have left them trapped in their big rigs for up to six hours while waiting to pick up their next load.
"We are not allowed even to go to the bathroom," said Cesar Parra, one of more than 100 truckers who began blocking gates at 5 a.m.
The truckers shut down five berths, which suffered some of the longest wait times after they were consolidated last month into a single terminal operated by industry giant SSA Marine. Longshoremen arrived at work to find truckers blocking the terminal's gates and opted not to cross the picket line, union officials said.
Later in the morning, the truckers began blocking other terminals, port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said. Oakland police arrived to restore access, and longshoremen who had already reported to work at those terminals remained on the job.
Port officials had no estimate on the protest's monetary impact. It was the port's third work stoppage since July, following two one-day walkouts by the longshoremen.
Long wait times for truckers has been a recurring problem at the port, where truck drivers had blocked terminal gates in 2004.
The longest waits recently have been at the SSA terminal, which suffered from a severe cargo backlog shortly after the consolidation in July.
Melvin MacKay, a former longshoremen's union president, said the terminal had extended its yard and changed its numbering system, making it harder for his members to find containers. "Everything is slow now because we are not acclimated to the system," he said.
However, SSA Marine Senior Vice President Bob Watters said the terminal has been running smoothly for the past couple of weeks and that the turnaround time for truckers is no longer than it was before the consolidation. "It is unfortunate that a small faction of the trucking community ... is inconveniencing all the port's customers and workers," he said.
Several customers also have complained about the backlog at the SSA terminal, which began in July. Earlier this month, Greg Long, who owns a San Francisco-based giftware company, said his shipper refused to send trucks to the port because of long wait times. One container of goods from China took three weeks to make it from the port to his San Francisco warehouse.
For truckers, most of whom are independent contractors paid by the load, the long waits cut into their profits. Making matters worse, truckers aren't allowed to leave their trucks once in line at the terminals because of safety concerns.
Drivers caught outside their trucks are levied $50 fines, Parra said.
"The drivers are treated as less than human beings," said Gloria Stockmyer of Stockmyer Trucking. "Nowhere else in America would we accept people getting treated the way these guys get treated at the port."
Drivers said they outlined their complaints in a letter last week to Mayor Jean Quan, but nobody from the mayor's office had responded. The port's executive director, Chris Lytle, met with truckers Monday to discuss their concerns.
Sandifur said that average turnaround time for truckers has been cut recently from several hours to one hour, which is in line with industry standards.
"We understand it is important for trucker turnaround time to be as short as possible," Sandifur said. "We're working with our partners to see what other steps can be taken to make this happen."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.