Off-Road Rebellion

ON THE PHONE MONDAY NIGHT, Ernesto Nevarez was ecstatic. “We did it,” he said, “we shut the thing down.” By “the thing” he meant the port, and by “we” — well, that wasn’t certain. Nevarez, a tax preparer, is among at least three people who claim to speak for los troqueros these days, none of whom was sure last week that the short-haul port and long-haul line drivers would join other immigrants and immigrant-rights activists in a work stoppage on May 1. And Nevarez, by his own admission, hardly speaks to the other two.

Stephanie Williams of the California Trucking Association, he said, “has mud on her face now because she said there would be no strike.” Miguel Lopez of the Teamsters “had been quoted that nothing was gonna happen,” and now he’s “persona non grata in my circles.” But neither Williams nor Lopez explicitly denied the possibility that truckers would participate in the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants” work stoppage. And as recently as last Wednesday, Nevarez himself only said he’d meet with truckers on Monday to decide whether to strike. And at that point, he said, “We might even decide to have a five-day strike.” When I asked him late in the day on Monday what had happened at that meeting, he shouted at me that “You can confirm for yourself that 90 percent of the truckers were out.” I asked him again whether that decision had been made in the meeting he held. “Go look at,” he yelled, “and you can see that Stephanie and Miguel said it wasn’t going to happen.” One more time, in an effort to determine how much he’d had to do with the truckers’ participation in the strike, I pressed for details on his meeting. At that, he grew agitated, said he had a call coming in from China and hung up.

In the past few years, Nevarez has positioned himself as the truckers’ defender in the media and on the Internet; he has appeared as the truckers’ spokesperson in IndyMedia Web reports and on Lou Dobbs Tonight (where, as an avowed “Wobbly,” he played right into Dobbs’ alarmist tone). His dramatic rhetoric makes good copy for television news — commerce “will come to a grinding halt,” he declared on Dobbs’ show — and his ubiquity suggests he loves the spotlight. But in his Tuesday-morning e-mail, he announced he would say no more.

“In the past I contacted the media,” he wrote, but “from this point on . . . there will be no further information to anyone.”

It has never been more evident that California’s port truckers have no one to speak accurately on their behalf than it was in the days leading up to May 1. “The week before was just crazy with rumors,” said Patty Senecal, vice president of Transport Express Inc. “It seemed like the immigration thing got hijacked into a union organization effort.” Senecal said her company was prepared for some sort of work stoppage — “the consensus was a lot of drivers weren’t going to work,” she told me — but she didn’t know how many would participate. As it happened, “We only had about 10 percent of our fleet up” during the strike.

One trucker activist, long-haul driver Armando Gonzalez, admits that even the people who predicted the truckers’ participation in the strike were caught off-guard by the numbers. “I was hoping for 50 percent,” he said, “but I think it was more like 80 or 90. It was incredible. The only trucks I saw on the road were interstate trucks. We couldn’t get the word out to them.”

In his final e-mail to the media, Nevarez finally divulged that there had been “150 troqueros and another 150 community supporters” at his Monday meeting at Banning Park in the Long Beach port. But they didn’t discuss whether to strike May 1 — that had already been decided by the thousands of truckers who didn’t come to work. Instead, Nevarez wrote, “It was democratically determined that at the moment the call for an extended strike would be postponed but that there would be a strike and the exact date would be decided on May 13.”

Gonzalez hadn’t heard about any meeting on May 13, but he does plan some future action, coordinated among long-haul and port drivers, against oil companies for fuel prices — inspired by the people of Beeville, Texas, “that small town where they’re boycotting Exxon-Mobil.” And he’s quick to add that he’d like to keep the “Sensenbrenner issue” separate from truckers’ labor woes. This past Monday’s action, he says, “was not about truckers’ rights. This was about truckers giving support to May 1.” And who did the most to get them out? “That’s a good question,” he says. “Probably Piolin.”


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