Teamsters recruit owner-operators in Miami

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Four hundred sixty owner-operators, some motivated by a logjam of freight from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, have signed up at the Teamsters’ Miami hiring hall, a union representative said.

Local 769 opened Sept. 20, and truckers have held signs outside the Port of Miami encouraging others to join, said Jim Stewart, international representative for the Teamsters’ port division.

Intermodal port truckers have complained of poor pay and working conditions for years, and shutdowns have occurred at ports nationwide during diesel spikes.

This fall’s hurricanes are expected to result in a backlog of freight being diverted to East Coast ports, Stewart said.

“This storm has motivated a lot of people,” Stewart said. “They’ve got all this freight coming their way.”

The union seeks intermodal truckers serving the Port of Miami, Port Everglades and local rail yards, said Mike Scott, Local 769 president.

“We are taking applications from drivers who have canceled their independent contractor leases or who are not currently leased to motor carriers,” Scott said. “Hundreds of drivers are telling us they want to work as employee owner-operators with all the rights under U.S. labor law to which other employees are entitled.”

Members’ seniority is based on the day and time they register with the hiring hall.

The union expects to open a second hall in Charleston, S.C., by mid-October, followed by Savannah, Ga.

By then, the union expects to announce a list of carriers who have committed to hiring Teamsters. Union representatives are negotiating with carriers in Miami and Charleston, Stewart said.

“Every one of the companies who said three months ago they would sell the company if its drivers went union are now sitting down and talking with us,” Stewart said. “A lot went from walking in a complete enemy to asking their attorney to talk to our attorney.”

Establishing a hiring hall in Miami was recommended this past spring in a report commissioned by Miami City Commissioner Tomas Regalado, after an owner-operator protest in summer 2004 brought the Port of Miami to a standstill.