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Originally published Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 8:23 PM

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Port of Seattle truckers end 2-week walkout; talks to continue

About 400 short-haul truckers at the Port of Seattle decided Tuesday they'll return to work, ending a two-week walkout.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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About 400 short-haul truckers at the Port of Seattle decided Tuesday they'll return to work, ending a two-week walkout.

The mostly immigrant drivers represent about one-third of the typical daily truck fleet at the Port. The walkout slowed some cargo loads, but no ships were diverted or stopped, the Port says.

Port leaders will continue to meet with the drivers to grapple with safety issues, said Port spokesman Peter McGraw. Issues include overweight loads and worn or flawed truck chassis that are owned by freight companies and used and returned by drivers each day.

In addition, several trucking firms have agreed to boost the pay per load to $44 from $40 a trip; to compensate drivers stuck in line more than an hour; and to pay for some trips drivers make when they have no load, according to Paul Marvy, a labor-union researcher advising the truckers.

"This is an ongoing process. We will continue to fight as time goes on, to make sure these problems will be resolved," said Calvin Borders, of the new Seattle Port Truckers Association.

Most drivers are classified as independent contractors, but the state House last week passed a bill to designate them as employees, subject to state health protections and with the right to form a union.

The Teamsters union hopes to organize the short-haul truckers in Seattle, Oakland, Calif., and other cities.

Truck driver Demeke Meconnen, one of the leaders of the walkout, said the group saw that employers were starting to lose their accounts, so drivers wanted to move cargo again while continuing to push for changes.

The trucking firms, except one, recently joined in talks with the drivers, he said.

"This is not only about the money. We're talking about safety, respect, dignity and fairness," Meconnen said.

Truckers seethed about derogatory or racist terms directed at them on the job, but they have begun to win community support, he said. "All the drivers are very happy for what they have done."

Drivers make an average $30,000 a year after paying for insurance and fuel, a Port survey found a few years ago, though trucking-industry managers have said incomes of more than twice that are possible.

The Washington Trucking Association and the Washington Public Ports Association testified against the state bill to overhaul the employment model. Critics said those who want to become company employees instead of independent operators can find jobs, and that more state regulations would harm small ports.

Port commissioners have worried that if Seattle unilaterally imposes rules to aid truckers, the Port would lose cargo to Canadian or Gulf ports.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631; or mlindblom@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mikelindblom

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