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Truckers protest high cost of fuel

Slowdowns jam traffic across US

Independent truckers listened to Dan Fein (left), a congressional candidate for the Socialist Workers party, during a demonstration yesterday at a stop along the New Jersey Turnpike. Independent truckers listened to Dan Fein (left), a congressional candidate for the Socialist Workers party, during a demonstration yesterday at a stop along the New Jersey Turnpike. (Mitsu Yasukawa/The Star Ledger via associated press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jeffrey Gold
Associated Press / April 2, 2008

RIDGEFIELD, N.J. - Tons of freight idled across the country yesterday as independent truckers pulled their rigs off the road while others slowed to a crawl on major highways in a loosely organized protest of high fuel prices.

Using CB radios and trucking websites, some truckers called for a strike yesterday to protest the high cost of diesel fuel, hoping the action might pressure President Bush to stabilize prices by using the nation's oil reserves.

"The gas prices are too high," said Lamont Newberne, a trucker from Wilmington, N.C., who along with 200 drivers protested at a New Jersey Turnpike service area. "We don't make enough money to pay our bills and take care of our family."

On the turnpike, southbound rigs staged a short lunchtime protest by moving about 20 miles per hour near Newark, jamming traffic on one of the nation's most heavily traveled highways, authorities said.

By day's end, the protests ended up scattered: major trucking companies were not on board, and Teamsters union officials and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association denied organizing the protests.

Federal law prohibits the association from calling for a strike because it is a trade association.

Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Association, said that diesel prices are the worst he's seen but that his organization does not support or condone the strike.

His group is pushing for a number of measures to keep the prices down or to otherwise help truckers, including allowing exploration of oil-rich areas of the United States that are now off limits and setting a 65-mile-per-hour national speed limit.

Newberne said a typical run carrying produce from Lakeland, Fla., to the Hunt's Point Market in the Bronx had cost $600 to $700 a year ago. It now runs him $1,000.

Outside Chicago, three truck drivers were ticketed for impeding traffic on Interstate 55, driving three abreast at low speeds, the state police said. About 30 truckers drove in a convoy around metropolitan Atlanta at low speeds.

Near Florida's Port of Tampa, more than 50 tractor-trailer rigs sat idle as their drivers demanded that contractors pay them more to cover their fuel and other costs.

"We can no longer haul their stuff for what they're paying," said David Santiago, 35, a trucker for the past 17 years.

Charles Rotenbarger, 49, a trucker from Columbus, Ohio, said he felt helpless.

"The oil company is the boss - what are we going to be able to do about it?" said Rotenbarger, who was at a truck stop in Baldwin, Fla., about 20 miles west of Jacksonville. "The whole world economy is going to be controlled by the oil companies. There's nothing we can do about it."

Jimmy Lowry, 51, of St. Petersburg, Fla., and others said it costs about $1 a mile to drive one of the big rigs, although some companies are offering as little as 87 cents a mile. Diesel cost $4.03 a gallon at the truck stop.

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