OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Oakland police said they cited at least half a dozen people at a noisy protest Wednesday morning at the Port of Oakland by truck drivers who are pushing for better pay and help in complying with new air emissions standards.
Police said specialized units began monitoring the area at about 5:50 a.m. today. At least six people were cited for allegedly obstructing port activities, police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said.
The Port of Oakland Truckers Association said their members voted to go forward with Wednesday’s work stoppage after meetings with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other leaders failed to produce the changes they are seeking.
Association spokesman Cesar Parra estimated that there were about 180 protesters at the port early Wednesday morning but that number had dwindled to about 60 as of about 10 a.m.
Gathered in front of terminals 57 to 59 at the Oakland International Terminal at 1999 Middle Harbor Road, truckers, who were on foot and were blasting air horns, carried signs such as, “We Need Fair Rates” and “Make Corporations Pay For Clean Air.”
Parra said truckers are seeking financial assistance—from the city of Oakland, the Port of Oakland and shipping companies that use the port — to help them out with the cost of buying new trucks or upgrading existing trucks to comply with new air standards that will go into effect on Jan. 1.
He estimated the cost of the upgrades at between $60,000 and $80,000 and said many truck drivers are struggling to pay those costs.
Parra said the truckers’ group is also asking for a congestion fee of $50 per hour for truckers who end up spending more than two hours waiting in line to pick up a load at the port.
In a statement released earlier this week, Quan said that as many as 15 percent of the 6,000 registered truckers at the port haven’t yet met the new state air quality regulations.
She said Wednesday’s protest involves “a few hundred” among that group, and that the work stoppage could “hurt the other truck owners at the port who have already invested in upgrading their rigs.”
Quan said the port, as well as state and regional agencies, have allocated $38 million to help port truckers cover the cost of air quality upgrades to their rigs.
“We must ensure that every truck that does business at the port continues to meet the emission standards set five years ago,” the mayor said. “State and federal agencies have allowed multiple deadline extensions and are not offering more.”
Port of Oakland spokesman Robert Bernardo said operations continued at all of the port’s terminals Wednesday morning despite the protest.
“The Port of Oakland continues to keep the channels of commerce flowing,” Bernardo said.
He said port officials understand the financial burden faced by truckers who are required to upgrade their vehicles, but noted that the state’s air quality regulations have enabled the port to significantly lower seaport diesel emissions in recent years.
He also said that port Executive Director Chris Lytle has met with the port’s terminal operators and encouraged them to meet with truckers and “take a fresh look at their compensation” to help them shoulder additional costs.
Bernardo said that while port officials respect the truckers’ right to protest, they want to ensure that the protests don’t interfere with port activity.
Truck drivers held a previous work stoppage at the port on Oct. 21. The truckers are independent contractors and are unable to form a union.
Baljinder Singh of PCC Logistics, who was one of many truckers waiting in line to get into the Oakland International Terminal Wednesday morning, said he supports the protest but that he didn’t participate because, “I need to pay my bills.”
Singh said he believes the work action is important because the Port of Oakland “is not listening” to the truckers’ concerns.
Singh said he and other truckers often have to wait up to five hours to pick up loads at the port and they aren’t compensated for the time they spend waiting.
(© Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)