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Independent Truckers Organize In Stockton, CA

By Joshua Freeze, IWW - Labor Notes, October 2004.

Independent truckers in the intermodal rail yards of Stockton, California won the majority of their demands in a two-day strike September 13 and 14 against the Patriot Trucking Company. The firm has its headquarters in Dallas, Texas but has operations up and down the west coast. Patriot driver Dewey Obtinalla explained the reasons for the strike. "The manager had promised us a new rate and a new contract June 16. After a couple months, he still accepted discount rates. This can cut our weekly pay by $200 to $300 per driver. Also, we talked with people at other companies and they have only one hour free wait time." This refers to the time drivers must wait without pay for the receiver to unload the truck. Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Organizer Bruce Valde added that the company routinely cheated drivers by paying less than promised, failing to reimburse drivers for expenses they are contractually entitled to, and delaying pay.

There are roughly 250 rail yard truckers in Stockton, most of whom are immigrants. Most drivers are Punjabi speaking Sikhs from India, with a fair number of Latinos, Filipinos, and Fijians, alongside some Blacks and whites. Most of the Patriot drivers, and indeed most of the independent rail yard truckers in Stockton, have joined the Industrial Workers of the World. In an email interview, IWW organizer Valde ran down the points of victory: "Patriot drivers succeeded in forcing the manager to drop the discount rates paid to brokers. They also got the unpaid wait time lowered to one hour at several more locations. In addition they won extra pay for carrying hazardous materials, switching containers in the yard, and sweeping out the containers. They also won pay for delays at the scales and for carrying overweight loads. They won clarifications of the driver's responsibilities in the contract and the right to refuse loads without being punished by denial of loads the following day. Finally, one of the major gains was not monetary at all. Drivers were angry at the lack of respect from management and made significant headway there as well."

Because they are currently considered independent contractors, labor laws do not protect these truckers. This has prevented unions from using standard tactics for organizing, but it hasn't stopped the workers from fighting back. Over the last year there have been several strikes by independent truckers around the country. Out of 11 Patriot drivers, initially three or four crossed the line. One took one load and then joined the picket line. Another joined the union on the second day.

This strike is a victory for the workers at Patriot and a big step for the modern IWW. With this strike, the IWW has shown it can beat employers in one of the critical industries in the modern economy. It should come as no surprise that this workforce of immigrants outside the traditional job structure have joined the IWW. That is where their union had its greatest victories in the past and may now have opened up it horizons for the future.