Clark County truckers feel the pinch of Occupy group's blockade of Port of Portland

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Trucking companies in Clark County said Monday their drivers and their bottom lines are getting hurt by Occupy demonstrators who are gumming up operations at the Port of Portland.

"Looks like we are dead in the water today," Amanda Engh, account manager for RoadLink's operations in Vancouver, wrote in an email to The Columbian.

Engh forwarded to The Columbian an email she received from the Port of Portland Monday morning notifying RoadLink that Terminal 6 is closed for the day.

Reached by phone, Engh said about eight truck drivers - independent contractors who do work for RoadLink - are sitting idle because of the protest.

"We just sit and wait and tell our drivers to stick it out," she said.

Brad Foster, a sales representative for Vancouver-based Mitchell Bros. Truck Line Inc., said the company has about 35 truck drivers standing down because of halted operations at the Port of Portland.

Mitchell Bros. employs a mixture of truckers who are on staff and those who are independent contractors, Foster said.

Foster said the Port of Portland's Terminal 6 is important to the region's economy. It's where scrap metal and other exports are handled, he said, and it's where imports - including retail goods headed for Fred Meyer, Columbia Sportswear and Lowe's stores - are processed.

"Everybody's affected," Foster said.

Both Engh and Foster said their companies are trying to work around the Occupy protests by sending their truckers to rail yards in the region.

Engh said the Occupy movement's port demonstration is "blocking the 99 percent of the working poor from working."

Foster said he understands the frustration behind the movement but disagrees with some of its tactics, including the port demonstrations.

Theresa Wagner, chief of communications for the Port of Vancouver, said: "Still quiet here."

Indeed, the Occupy movement said last week Vancouver's port was not on its list of protest sites.

Under the banner “West Coast Port Blockade Shut Down Wall Street on the Waterfront!” the Occupy movement planned to launch blockades on Monday of at least eight ports. They are Portland, Longview, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland.

Occupy members say the demonstrations are intended to show support for a union’s battle over work at a grain terminal at Longview’s port and to highlight the struggle of port truckers to earn a living while corporations rake in cash off port operations.

Occupy members say they want to show solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union at the Port of Longview.

The Longshore union opposes a decision by EGT, which built a $200 million grain terminal at the Port of Longview, to use members of the Operating Engineers, Local 701 — employed by General Construction Co. of Federal Way — to run the terminal, rather than ILWU workers.

In a YouTube video, Occupy members also say port truckers are barely scraping by while “Goldman Sachs reaps record profits at SSA (Marine) port terminals.”

ILWU leaders have said that while they support the broader goals of the Occupy movement, they oppose the group's tactic of attempting to shut down ports along the West Coast.