- Harbor truckers told Insider they wait for hours on end in lines at backlogged ports.
- Long wait times cut into truckers’ pay and cause them to miss appointments.
- 10 port drivers told Insider about 5-mile (8km) lines that can take as long as 8 hours to get through.
Port drivers are paying the price for backlogged ports. Truckers say they regularly face long wait times and low pay as a result.
10 harbor truckers told Insider they’ve idled for hours outside ports. Four truck drivers, who regularly pick up loads from ports in Southern California, told Insider they’ve seen lines as long as five miles and waited up to eight hours to get into terminals. Most of the workers asked to remain anonymous to speak freely about their jobs, and their identities were verified by Insider.
“What used to be as fast as 10 to 20 minutes is taking three to four hours now,” a trucker out of Charleston told Insider. “You can wait for hours on end before they even check you in and get nothing for it.”
The driver said that, before the pandemic, he would pick up three containers a day for local drop-offs. Now, he has days where he can only get one - a major issue for the majority of harbor drivers, who are paid per load.
Wait times slash pay
Only about 20% of drivers at US ports operate as hourly employees. Most truckers are independent contractors and paid per load – meaning no matter how long they wait outside ports or warehouses, they often receive the same pay.
While some drivers receive small stipends between $US50 ($AU68) to $US100 ($AU135) per hour for showing up at the ports or waiting for more than two hours, there is no industry standard. Drivers told Insider the pay doesn’t account for time spent waiting outside the port’s gate.
Truckers are capped at 60 hours of work per week, so each moment on the clock is a race to complete as many deliveries as possible.
But five drivers said there are days when they show up at ports and are turned away, because either their container has yet to be unloaded, the terminal is no longer accepting empty containers, or they missed an appointment after waiting too long at a different terminal or warehouse. The drivers told Insider they’ve waited in line so long at the ports some days that they’ve missed drop-off windows at warehouses, forcing them to wait up to 20 hours to deliver the cargo.
“It’s a cycle,” Luis Molina, a driver at Long Beach and the founder of KONTAINEROZ, said. “You get the same pay, but now the load takes you two days and you miss your next appointment. Each wait time carries over to the next pick up or delivery,” he added.
At terminals, truckers go through a series of at least three lines: one to get into the gate and check in, a pick-up line, and an exit line. Drivers on the West Coast told Insider that each queue is at least an hour long, with wait times outside of the first gate stretching the longest. Two drivers with over 20 years of experience told Insider they’ve faced long wait times at ports for years, but the shortage of chassis and surplus of empty containers is making it worse.
They also said the conditions at terminals can be uncomfortable, as many don’t allow truckers to exit their cab.
“Sometimes a water bottle is the only bathroom option,” a Port of Long Beach driver said.
The crisis is an opportunity for some
Some drivers say the industry has a reputation for negative paychecks, as independent contractors are typically responsible for about 90% of trucking expenses, including leasing trucks and paying for fuel. If they can’t deliver at least one load per day, then they can’t pay their bills – much less turn a profit.
Other drivers say the shipping crisis presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Two truckers, who own their own rigs, said the option to get paid per load has its benefits, including the freedom to select preferable shipments and terminals.
Three truck drivers told Insider the wait times have led them to shift toward other industries within trucking, while two others said they abandoned the industry entirely to work at fast-food restaurants, where they can make more reliable pay.
Justice for Port Drivers organizer Billy Randel told Insider the organization, which is backed by the Teamsters Union, is working to create a base pay for harbor truckers, with the motto: “All hours worked, all hours paid.”
Randel said the group of 7,000 truckers hopes to emulate the success of the longshoremen’s union.
“Longshoremen and truckers are often painted by the media as adversaries,” Randel said. “In reality, they need to work together. Together they can put the pressure on companies and hold them accountable.”