The action comes as West Coast port cargo traffic is still recovering from months of slowdowns stemming from a previous dispute between dockworkers and major shipping companies. That conflict, which disrupted trans-Pacific trade and reverberated through the U.S. economy, was settled in February. The port drivers accuse the trucking companies of wage theft by illegally misclassifying them as independent contractors, deducting truck-leasing charges and other expenses from their paychecks. The truckers are demanding to be reclassified as company employees with the right to union representation.
The port truckers strike doesn’t qualify as a major work stoppage, and so it won’t show up in the bureau’s 2014 statistics. Yet the decline of major work stoppages correlates with a decline in militant labor actions overall. Joe Burns, a labor attorney and author of the book Reviving the Strike, has argued that organized labor needs to relearn how to conduct genuinely disruptive work stoppages. It remains to be seen whether the truckers’ strike qualifies, but Burns told msnbc the location of the strike was certainly “strategic.” “Here, potentially, a small number of workers going on strike could have a major economic impact, and conceivably put pressure on the ostensible employers to get the matter resolved,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of goods that need to flow through those ports.”