On Father’s Day, truckers demand better working conditions

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Dozens of truckers gathered on Sunday for a Father’s Day lunch at an encampment alongside the PR-5 highway as they continued a strike demanding proper payment of their commonwealth-mandated cargo fees and improved working conditions.

The lunch was part of demonstrations called “Our Children Shall Not Be Slaves,” organized by Camioneros Unidos (United Truckers) to “keep our children from being modern slaves with hauling fees that impoverish our families.”

For 13 consecutive days, around 80 truck drivers have been demanding that distributor V. Suárez comply with the fee system established by the Transportation and Other Services Bureau (NTSP by its Spanish initials) in 2003, and later amended in 2005 and 2008.

In an interview with the STAR, Camioneros Unidos spokesperson Leonardo Delgado Navarro said the company is not paying their truckers according to the fees established under the Specialized Freight Transportation category.

Haulers in that category are responsible for all services related to transporting refrigerated cargo or goods, hazardous materials or substances, biomedical waste, or other similar cargo.

“There was a fuel fee adjustment in 2008, which involved pretty strong bargaining, and provides for additional and separate compensation to be paid for the increase in diesel fuel prices amid the drastic price ranges during the Gulf War,” he said. “We created a fee system where once a limit was set on diesel fuel, the client adjusted a one-to-15-cents-per-mile-traveled compensation separately; the company is not complying with that, either.”

Delgado Navarro added that V. Suárez is not following an NTSP administrative memo filed in April 2020 to regulate freight carriers’ cargo receipts and delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The memo recommended that businesses receive delivery by invoice or any digital method so as to not expose the carriers for undetermined amounts of time during cargo delivery amid the public health emergency.

The memo further states that “any business that requires a freight vehicle operator to make deliveries more than ten (10) feet from the cargo delivery area or ramp of the commercial, home or work premises of the consignee, where the vehicle is located, is subject to a $10,000 administrative fine per violation, under the Violation A-1.23 of the NTSP Code of Regulations provisions.”

“Even though this door-to-door regulation is in effect, our workers get obligated to leave cargo inside the establishment,” Delgado Navarro said. “Businesses are required to have the operations to unload cargo as this takes a lot of time from truckers to do so.”

The memo also states that any businesses that allow the freight carrier’s wait time when making a delivery to exceed one hour are subject to a $100 administrative fine per additional hour.

“No trucker should have to wait two to three hours to deliver cargo; it extends our truckers’ work time that, in the end, is not compensated,” the Camioneros Unidos spokesperson said.

Delgado Navarro further noted that the distributor does not comply with other fee regulations, such as those in an administrative memo filed by the NTSP in December 2020, which establishes fee payments per mile traveled.

Although the memo is being challenged in the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, he said that “businesses can comply with the tariff fees established in the document.”

On Saturday, truck drivers took advantage of Juneteenth, a newly established federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, to assert their claims that they would stop working under the current conditions, which they consider “a form of modern slavery.”

Delgado Navarro claimed that V. Suárez had not increased their truckers’ salary for 50 years “although living costs have increased over the last 50 years.”

He also condemned businesses, food distributors, and retail organizations for making truckers look responsible for the increase in the cost of goods.

“If you check the increase in the price of goods from 2005 to today, they have increased by 2% consistently per year,” Delgado Navarro said. “The argument for increasing 2% per year, which today would reach 37%, has always been that the cost of cargo hauling has increased.”

“This is untrue because these partners have been charging the same fees for 50 years,” he added.

Manuel Reyes Alfonso, executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry and Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym), told the STAR meanwhile that “transportation in the food and private industry has been under individual negotiation.”

“Their pay has not been through tariffs governed by what used to be the Public Service Commission,” Reyes Alfonso said. “The public service rates applied to a type of transportation that is basically for sporadic trips, such as cranes, cabs, dump trucks, which are purchased for private purposes.”

“When there are permanent negotiations and multiple trips, this does not apply; it has never been applied,” he added.

The MIDA chief said what the chamber rejects is “the attempt to change what was always a free-competition system to try implementing the tariffs.”

“We do not object to the review of those tariffs on those operators that fulfill these requirements,” he said.

“The country is being misinformed by these groups when, for example, they say that those tariffs have not been revised over the last 15 years,” Reyes Alfonso added. “These contracts are negotiated annually and revised twice a year; there are always continuous adjustments happening.”

He said another issue occurring with truckers is that they’re behaving like workers’ unions “when they are transport entrepreneurs.”

“As transport entrepreneurs under a free competition environment, trying to negotiate fee rates and create boycotts in groups is illegal,” Reyes Alfonso said. “They violate the monopoly laws; you can’t do that.”

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