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Truckers Feeling Pinched at Ports

Shipping lines charge fees for equipment that drivers say was held up because of congestion.

October 16, 2002|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

Trucking companies that suffered heavy losses during the 10-day lockout of West Coast ports say they are being stung a second time by shipping lines, which are charging rental fees for equipment the truckers say they could not return on time.

The so-called per diem fees can amount to $44 a day for a container or the truck chassis that carries it, said Stephanie Williams, vice president for legislative affairs with the California Trucking Assn. The equipment is owned by the shipping lines and lent to trucking companies for five days to allow time for delivery and return.

The tab can quickly escalate for companies with several hundred containers and chassis on hand.

Williams said truckers have had difficulties returning equipment to terminals for more than a month because of labor disruptions that slowed processing times and because of the lockout, which ended Oct. 9. In recent days, she said, some truckers have waited in line five hours to return empty containers, only to be turned away from the terminal gate because the yard already was too congested.

"That's like Blockbuster Video taping up their video drop box and then saying, 'You owe us money,' " she said.

Williams singled out Taiwan-based shipping line Evergreen as one of the worst offenders. However, Bob Kleist, a consultant for the company, said Evergreen has waived per diem fees that built up during the 10-day lockout, except for equipment that already was late before it began.

The shipping lines, through the Pacific Maritime Assn., have been in tense contract negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union for five months. After a series of alleged union slowdowns, which snarled traffic on the docks, the shipping association shut down all the West Coast ports. They were reopened for an 80-day cooling-off period last week under a federal court order sought by President Bush.

The trucking association also complained about being charged storage, or "demurrage," fees for containers that were destined for importers but were stranded at the terminals. The California Port Assn., which sets those fees, agreed last week to suspend the fees through the lockout period. Demurrage fees can be as high as $72 a day for a container.

The union and shipping association continued to trade accusations Tuesday regarding the pace of work at terminals along the coast. ILWU Local 13 in Los Angeles filed the first stage of a grievance process Tuesday, alleging that the shipping group was creating a crisis by failing to order enough crane operators.

The PMA said the union was staging orchestrated slowdowns, which cut production along the coast Tuesday by 21% from normal.

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