Owner-operator George Berry and the relatively newly formed Virginia Port Truckers Association is extending what he calls an “open invitation to company drivers and owner-operators” for this Saturday, March 9, and a meeting at which the association will begin to establish governance and lay the foundation for what he hopes will be a viable organization giving voice to driver and owner-op interests at the Hampton Roads port.
Owner-operator Berry has been in business as a trucker for 13-14 years, following service in the U.S. Army, he says. He’s also today an agent for Port of Virginia intermodal-focused Pioneer Transport, and has run the “For Truckers by Truckers” Facebook page since 2014.
“We saw there was a need for a port drivers’ voice” in Virginia, he says. “We had grievances we didn’t feel were being adequately addressed” by the Tidewater Motor Truck Association, which he adds tends to look out for the interests of principally terminal managers and motor carriers among members.
Over the course of five years via the Facebook group and attendant meetings, members’ voices have been amplified in local news, meetings with port brass and various other publications, including some industry media. “Near the end of March last year, one of our most notable events was a large rally at the Portsmouth terminal,” Berry says, over a variety of issues, chief among them port congestion and waiting/dwell times. It led to work with the Transport Workers Union for guidance on organization. “That relationship has sort of spawned,” he adds. “Since that time, they’ve been sending representatives every month and we’ve been having meetings” toward a more formal business association.
Construction at Port of Virginia has been ongoing over the last year with some terminal expansion, and appointment time systems are being implemented. Along the way, however, drivers have had to endure the twin challenges of congestion and long waits, Berry says, as longshoremen feel choked by increasing load automation at the ports and the port operators themselves work to increase efficiency. “We feel like there’s blame for the issues to go around on both sides,” with longshoremen’s inefficiences and outdated equipment breaking down routinely at the port.
None of the recent changes, Berry adds, “are moving fast enough for the drivers.”
Berry’s promoting a partial fix in a push to get the more than 300 motor carriers in the area on board with a simple contract addition — an agreement to pay $60 an hour to drivers and independent contractor owner-operators serving the ports for dwell/detention time, after one gratis hour of wait, as you see summarized in the flyer image above.
The association, he hopes, will serve as a venue for operators to “come together in solidarity and effect more changes out here in this industry. It’s been a very long journey and we still have a ways to go – we’ve gotten some level of respect already, but we feel there’s more to be done.”
The Port of Virginia at Hampton Roads stands in terms of volume at No. 6 nationwide, Berry says, with the third highest volume on the East Coast behind Savannah and New York/New Jersey. Drivers would love to get to that number 1 East Coast position, he says, but in the drive to it he feels like “we’re getting hung up in the wash.”