Kach Truckers Strike Over Delay Time and Broken
By Adam Welch - December 2004
IWW organizers and truckers held a successful gathering and mass meeting of over 120 Stockton drivers outside the city Nov. 20, discussing strategies to improve conditions for truckers working out of the Stockton rail yards and to build solidarity with short-haul truckers in other cities.
Several leaders of the predominantly Indian drivers spoke on the need for truckers to be united, noting that they were stronger together than fighting individually. A Filipino driver spoke on the successfully settled Patriot strike, in which strikers won several demands including pay for wait times over an hour, bonuses for hazardous and overweight loads, and ultimately rid themselves of a hated manager. A Latino driver recalled the unity between the predominately Indian and Latino drivers during the May 2004 strikes that shut down port and rail trucking up and down the West Coast.
Two weeks later, on Dec. 9, twenty IWW truckers working out of the Stockton rail yards for Kach Trucking began a five-day strike after management did not respond to the drivers' demands for a previously promised 20 percent increase in rates for all deliveries and reduced "delay time," which is the unpaid wait times (of up to two hours they are now paid an hourly rate for any wait time beyond two hours) they are forced to endure after delivering their cargo, along with several other pay issues.
Out of nearly 30 trucking companies moving cargo in and out of Stockton's rail yards, Kach is one of seven companies that have reneged on a previous agreement to keep wait times below one hour. Following a successful two-week strike by nearly all Stockton's over 250 rail yard truckers in April 2004, all local companies agreed to the one-hour wait time. In a May 4, 2004, agreement signed by Kach General Manager Chris Roscom, the company agreed to this and several other issues.
However, while wait times were cut in the aftermath of the strike, Kach never fully implemented its agreement and wait times have been gradually creeping back up.
Kach drivers met the morning of Sunday, Dec. 5, at a local truck stop outside of Stockton to decide on a course of action. Drivers estimated that the company's unfulfilled promises amount to $1,000 per month loss in pay for each driver. So they decided to fax a letter with their demands to the company and give it until Dec, 8 to respond. A four-member committee was elected to handle communication with the other drivers and prevent the company from spreading misinformation to divide them.
Bay Area Branch Field Organizer Bruce Valde was in the East Bay IWW office ready to fax the letter Monday morning when drivers called to let him know that managers, having heard that they would receive a fax from the union, were hovering over the machine. "I thought the idea of the bosses waiting around the machine was kind of funny, so I waited a little while before I sent the fax just to make them sweat a little," said Valde. The Dec. 8 deadline passed without any response from management and drivers began calling each other to spread word of the strike the next morning.
In response to the strike, Fresno-based management initially told drivers in a December 10 phone conversation that two strike leaders would not be "welcome back" to the company, though they later denied saying this. The company also made several calls to drivers falsely claiming that other drivers had returned to work and offering them extra loads should they return to work. But the drivers remained 100 percent solid throughout the strike. "All us Kach drivers are united in this strike and will not give up because of this intimidation talk from management. We are trying to feed our families and they can't convince us out of fighting for that," said one of the drivers singled out in management threats.
"We sent them three letters asking them to take our demands seriously, but they ignored us," noted one of the elected committee members. "Our only choice was to walk off the job."
Each day during the strike, drivers gathered in a vacant lot off Highway 5, where truckers had previously massed during the May strike. With picket signs erected on their parked cars, drivers kept their spirits -- gathering around in circles, talking and telling jokes or playing cards in a van with foldable seats.
At lunch time drivers pitched in for soda and pizza. On other days IWW supporters arrived with cooked food, which was placed on the bed of a one of the drivers' pickup trucks. In the afternoon, as the workday ended or slowed down, drivers from other companies stopped by to talk and show their support. On the first day of the strike, the new manager at Patriot (where we won an earlier strike), came up and talked to the drivers, trying to hire them on.
On the fourth day of the strike, managers refused to negotiate seriously. But when the drivers informed the company that they would be marching on the company offices the next day to resign as a group, the boss called back. If they came to the offices in nearby Fresno, he said, the company would have the cops evict them. But he agreed to meet all the workers' demands (most notably to pay a previously agreed 20 percent bonus on all loads to compensate drivers for increased fuel costs) except for paying for all wait time over an hour. That, he said, would have to wait until May when the company renegotiates its contracts with the brokers. (Many brokers are already paying the companies for wait times over an hour, truckers say, but the companies are pocketing the money.)
But since unpaid wait time was the central issue, the drivers rejected the offer and told the company they were quitting. Other IWW drivers (non-IWW drivers are increasingly hard to find in Stockton, as nearly 220 are now carrying IWW cards) will refuse to work for Kach so long as it refuses to honor its previous agreements with the truckers. Since the truckers own (or lease) their own vehicles, if the boss wants the cargo moved he'll have to haul the trailers himself.
"With this strike we taught the bosses a lesson: that they can't afford to ignore the demands of the drivers," said IWW organizer Harjit Gill. "We've shown that the drivers are united and willing to take action. and the companies know that the union is behind the drivers in refusing to be mistreated."
The Kach strike was the beginning of a campaign to force the trucking companies to honor the agreements they made last Spring to settle the strike. "The [Nov. 20] meeting was really great because it brought everyone together," said one of the Indian drivers. "That has never really happened before."
Timeline of the Strike by 20 drivers at Kach Trucking
By Bruce Valde, IWW Organizer.
Day 1 - Drivers gather on street in Lathrop. One driver joins Union others pay dues. Meeting takes place. Drivers move to visible location next to Interstate 5. Picket signs come out. No word from company
Day 2 - Drivers gather at 10 AM. Meeting to discuss how to handle media enquiries and update. Company called but offered nothing. Supporters arrive from nearby town. They are responsible for internet posting about strike. Sheriff comes by to check us out.
Day 3 - We send fax to company letting them know we are contacting media and countering there b.s. to brokers about drivers on vacation. We arrange letter threatening legal action for breach of contract. Strike is 100% of drivers. Many drivers from other companys visit the picket. Still no word from Kach except talk of firing the ring leaders.
Day 4 - Kach makes offer to pay full price for fuel when truckers are returning bob tail(no load). This is one of the demands but drivers aren't interested. Drivers are told to hand in their company tags or they won't get paid. Drivers decide to go to Fresno en mass to do this. Company threatens to call sheriff.
Day 5 - Drivers stand by their decision to strike for 5 days then go look elsewhere for work. The boss calls and makes an offer-everything but the 1 hour delay. Boss says they threatened to call cops because they don't want Union showing up with drivers. Boss also claims that threats to fire ring leaders are not true. Drivers discuss offer and reject it!