Frustrated by long waits at local seaport terminals and spiking diesel fuel prices, independent truck drivers are staging work disruptions at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Although the actions have been small and sporadic thus far, a large demonstration is planned for Sept. 26 in Long Beach.

The truckers involved in the protests are independent contractors who own their own vehicles and are hired by trucking companies to pick up cargo containers at the ports and take them to distribution warehouses and other facilities all over Southern California.

Last week, truckers blocked the yards of about half a dozen trucking companies that serve the ports, demanding higher rates for each trip, as well as additional fuel charges. In most cases, the targeted companies have been quick to work out settlements with the truckers, but more disruptions are expected.

Though the independent truckers are not members of the Teamsters union, organized labor is backing the protests and participating in settlement talks as a way to extend its influence at the ports.

Members of the Teamsters have been handing out leaflets about the upcoming demonstration and held a meeting in their union hall in Long Beach last week to discuss the rally, according to Edmund Burke, West Coast coordinator with the port division of the Teamsters.

"We want to shine a light on the conditions of the truck drivers here in the ports," said Burke. "It's hard to say at this point how many of them will turn out for an event like this, but we've contacted over 10,000 truckers in the ports and we're hoping for a good turnout."

The Teamsters are not trying to organize the independent truckers, because that would violate federal antitrust legislation. Instead, the union's goal is for independent truckers aligned with the Teamsters to be hired as direct employees of well-established, unionized shipping companies, such as UPS.

According to Burke, the union is in discussions with a number of these larger companies about that issue and, in the meantime, is providing logistical assistance to disgruntled non-union truckers at the ports.

Some industry observers, however, question whether overland shipping companies will be jumping at the opportunity to pay union wages to independent drivers who stand in line for three hours at the crowded terminals.

The truckers at the ports are upset by the long waits that occur now that the peak season for holiday imports is in full swing and record volumes of containers arrive month after month.

But because of high longshore labor costs, terminal operators are reluctant to keep the terminal gates open extra hours in spite of the huge flow of goods. That means that when the gates are open during the day, the lines of truckers waiting to pick up their load can stretch out to as many as 300 trucks.

The truckers, however, get paid a flat rate to pick up each container at the port and transport it to an inland location. They say they must make an average of three trips a day to make ends meet.

On top of that, diesel fuel prices are now up to $2 a gallon, which also comes out of the independent truckers' own pockets.

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