Making the Case for Good Jobs & Clean Air in Washington, DC
The Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports is a unique partnership of environmental, public health, community, labor, faith, business, civil rights, and environmental justice organizations that promote sustainable economic development at ports coast to coast to make the port trucking system a less polluting, more competitive generator of good quality jobs for residents, workers and business alike. We are over 150 organizations strong nationwide.
Posts From Washington, DC
January 9, 2013
They did it again, and this time it paid off in a huge way. L.A’s Toll Group drivers, who made national and international headlines in April by overwhelmingly voting to become Teamsters, cemented their place in history by ratifying the first union contract in the drayage industry in 30 years. And boy is the contract a good one! The agreement is highly regarded as a standard-setting first union contract, and viewed as a huge win for any union and a definite game-changer for U.S. port drivers.
The drivers who haul apparel and merchandise shipped to our shores for America’s brand name stores will kick start 2013 with a contractual raise of more than $6 per hour along with paid overtime, sick leave and holidays, a far more affordable health care plan with zero change in coverage, guaranteed shift hours and other provisions to provide job security – plus a pension plan.
“Justice…it’s sort of an indescribable feeling, but it is overwhelming and incredible to finally have the American Dream at our reach,” said Jose Ortega Jr., a driver for global logistics giant who served on the bargaining committee for his co-workers along with representatives from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Local 848 in Long Beach, Calif. The Australian corporation operates near the nation’s largest port complexes on both coasts and handles accounts for Guess?, Polo, Under Armour and other fashion and sportswear lines sold at big box and department retailers like Walmart and JC Penney.
The landmark agreement culminates more than 24 months of worker struggle and employer resistance in which these truckers – aided by a community coalition, their children, and clergy – borrowed bullhorns, leafleted consumers, gathered signatures practiced their picket lines, staged noisy protests, crashed shareholder meetings in a dogged campaign to end the Third World-like working conditions they once routinely endured.
U.S. port drivers are the most underpaid in the trucking industry: A typical professional earns $28,873 a year before taxes. Their net incomes often resemble that of part-time fast food or retail workers though they clock an average of 59 hours a week. They must possess specialized skills and licensing to safely command an 80,000 lb. container rig, but they fit the profile of America’s working poor. Food stamps, extended family, or church pantries are needed to get by; their children often lack regular pediatricians or only receive care at the public ER.
With American wages in freefall due to the imbalance of power enjoyed by multinational corporations, the scope and significance of such a labor accord with a transportation titan that operates in some 55 countries is alone a jaw dropper. What observers further find remarkable: The 65 workers who secured these middle-class benefits with their $8 billion employer are blue-collar Latino-Americans who hold jobs within a deregulated, virtually union-free industry at the ports.
“It upends the common wisdom that a workforce that lacks rights on the job cannot build the courage or bargaining strength to take on the Goliaths of the global economy. But these drivers, like the workers at the warehouses and Walmart and Wendy’s, understand they cannot raise families on such low wages, so they are coming together to rewrite the playbook,” noted Dr. John Logan, the director of Labor and Employment Studies at the College of Business at San Francisco State University. “The faces of this new movement are ordinary parents and churchgoers and community members who value the influence of a local priest as much as the expertise of an international overseas union. Not only do they have the guts to strike – they have the faith they can win.”
Their collective resolve paid off. Mr. Ortega, a single father who works the night shift, will see his new per-hour rate of $19.75 reflected on his next paycheck, plus any overtime will be paid at a time-and-a-half rate of $28.
“As a truck driver, I wanted the assurance that things would be okay for my daughter if I was injured, that I could take her to see the doctor if she got sick,” the 36-year-old explained. “When we started organizing ourselves, we weren’t asking for anything out of this world. To be treated with dignity. A fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. Decent, sanitary facilities to make a pit stop, rest, eat…you know, perform our jobs safely.
“But we knew winning basic respect would take a fight at every turn. So when we were afraid to lose our jobs, we asked our allies for help. When we were afraid to take action, we prayed for the courage to speak out. And we always stuck together, and never ever gave up.”
Elected leaders praised the union contract as both a middle-class builder and noted its high-road business merits.
“We’re talking about the men and women who are the backbone of our regional and national economy, yet they have never shared in the prosperity of the corporations they make so profitable,” said Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes the largest port in America. “The standards that Toll Group, its workers, and Teamsters Local 848 have set make it possible to reward and attract responsible port businesses that want to compete on a more level playing field based on innovation and quality, rather than who can pay Los Angeles’ vital workers the least.”
Fair wages –The day shift hourly rate increased from $12.72 to $19, and the night shift hourly rate from $13.22 to $19.75. In addition to the over $6/hour increase in hourly pay rates, drivers won $0.50/hour per year raises over the life of the contract, giving Toll port drivers over a 60% hourly wage boost over the life of the 3-year contract. Overtime pay of time-and-half kicks in after a typical full time 40-hour week, which is extremely rare in an industry where truckers are exempt from federal overtime laws and an average week hovers around 60 hours.
Secure retirement –Prior to the contract, less than a dozen Toll drivers could spare any extra dollars, even pre-tax, to participate in the corporate 401(k) plan. As Teamster Local 848 members, they have been automatically enrolled in the union’s Western Conference Pension Trust. Such a retirement plan at the port has rarely been seen since trucking was deregulated in 1980. Toll will make a pension contribution of $1/hour per driver until 2014, and a $1.50/hour per driver by 2015.
Affordable health care – The Toll Group health care plan was financially out of reach for most of its truck drivers. The few who managed to meet the premium, deductibles and copayments will now keep significant more money in their pocket without sacrificing coverage, and the rest of their co-workers finally have access to quality, affordable health insurance coverage, including dental and vision care. The company will pay 95% of the premium for individuals and 90% for family coverage. Drivers who previously had to shell out $125/month for individual or $400/month per family will drop to roughly $30 or $150, respectively.
Stable work hours and paid time off – Most truck drivers lose a day’s pay if they cannot work, are penalized by dispatchers for being unable to haul a load, and lack paid sick or holiday leave, making it stressful for family budgets and planning. But Toll drivers made substantial gains in all these areas. They will receive seven paid holidays, three paid personal days, and six paid sick days annually. They will accrue one or two weeks of vacation within the first two years of service, with longtime employees earning up to a month. They can also bank on guaranteed full- or half-day of pay regardless of seasonal slowdowns if they are scheduled to work.
Incentives to grow responsibly, level competition, and raise market standards – The agreement establishes a high-road business model for the port trucking industry that recognizes Toll’s competitors have not yet embraced livable wages and working conditions. To encourage a more level playing field and wide-scale unionization, drivers will have the ability to re-negotiate for improvements when a simple majority of the Southern California market is organized.
“We commend the drivers at Toll for their leadership in challenging the status quo at the ports. Workers everywhere are standing up and saying enough to poverty wages and Toll drivers have demonstrated that working families are ready to bring middle-class wages back to America,” said Teamster General President Jim Hoffa.
“For too long companies in the global supply chain have gamed the system by undercutting U.S. businesses that actually create good jobs. Toll Group and its drivers have raised the bar for responsible competition, and the Teamsters will not stop until the rest of the nation’s port drivers have a shot at the American Dream.”
Drivers from coast to coast in the virtually non-union and deregulated sector are eyeing the pact as a huge leap forward for the profession with the potential to trigger sweeping changes in the industry. Click here to see an infographic on how the L.A. Toll Teamsters stack up against the rest of the industry.
Trucking industry exposed for “ripping off” workers and taxpayers; Department of Labor vows crackdown
December 2, 2011
What is the trucking industry response to claims that port drivers are actually employees who have been stripped of their basic rights by trucking companies? Robert Digges, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, tripped on his own tongue on a CBS national news segment when he tried protesting the idea that trucking companies are cheating workers – and it’s getting picked up on blogs like the Daily Kos.
“They (trucking companies) believe they get a more productive employee – excuse me a more effective worker – a worker who is efficient, who has some skin in the game.”
So, the industry that dismantled the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program finally lets the truth slip: port truck drivers are actually employees who have had their rights stripped from them by greedy port trucking companies seeking to pad their bottom line.
“As long as we are independent contractors (the company) doesn’t have to cover benefits, they don’t have to cover sick days, bereavement leave time, holiday pay. It just saves the company money,” said Dutch Prior, a port driver for Shippers Transport in Oakland.
While the scheme is a boon for port trucking companies like Shippers Transport, a subsidiary of the giant SSA Marine (half-owned by Goldman Sachs), it’s drawing the attention of the Occupy movement and the Department of Labor.
“These (practices) have astronomical impacts on local governments, state governments and federal government and also hurts good, legitimate businesses that are playing by the rules and for employees that are being ripped off,” said Hilda Solis, the head of the US Department of Labor.
Last year the agency collected more than $5 million for nearly 8,000 misclassified workers, but with 300 new investigators on staff the Department of Labor will be looking more closely at misclassification schemes.
On December 12th the Occupy movement is organizing a shutdown of the West Coast ports while the Occupy protesters in New York take their case directly to Goldman Sachs on the same day (Goldman Sachs – half-owner of SSA Marine – has its own checkered history with paying taxes. It’s easy to understand why the Occupy folks are targeting the company in the coordination with the port shut down.)
The CBS Early Show segment is only the latest in a series of investigative news pieces on the port trucking industry generally and on Shippers Transport in particular.
Salon.com interviewed Leonardo Mejia, a truck driver for Shippers Transport who works out of Long Beach. “Mejia is part of the shadow economy, though not in the sense that that term is commonly understood: as an autonomous netherworld entirely off the books and underground, invisible to the taxman and mainstream society. Mejia’s shadow economy is something a little different; purposefully created from the top down, its growth driven by employers increasingly eager to shed costly, legally mandated commitments to their employees.”
New laws will help port truck drivers and other employees who are purposely misclassified by their employers, but enforcement of new and existing laws is key. Without strict enforcement from government agencies an imbalance of power exists which keeps truck drivers under the thumb of the giant trucking companies like Shippers Transport.
“There’s an imbalance of power in the market which enables the big shippers to control the cost of shipping,” According to Dr. David Bensman, a professor at Rutgers University and author of “The Big Rig”, a report about misclassification in the port trucking industry. “And as long as you have that imbalance of market power you are going to have intense competition and substandard industry practices.”
September 30, 2011
A Word from Patricia Castellanos, Chair of the Los Angeles Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports
Our movement for environmental and economic justice was dealt a real blow by corporate polluters and anti-union interests this week. They convinced the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel that an arcane loophole in the law prevents the nation’s largest port from fully implementing the EPA-award winning LA Clean Truck Program.
Are you willing to stand with the nation’s port workers and residents who are pledging to not take this sitting down? The nation’s 110,000 first-rate truck drivers who have long been subjected to third-world working conditions will be the first to feel the impact of this blow – along with the 87 million Americans who live and work in polluted port regions. Now they need to hear that we will fight back with them.
While top-notch attorneys representing the port and environmental groups like Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council succeeded in preserving many of the pioneering standards that helped introduce thousands of clean trucks into service, conservative judges put the brakes on the regulation that would stop the industry’s dirty tricks that brought diesel-soaked air and dead-end jobs to our communities in the first place.
If upheld, profitable, multi-national corporations like Maersk and the Goldman Sachs- owned SSA Marine will continue to disguise their truck drivers as independent contractors in a widespread scheme to cheat on taxes and force struggling blue-collar workers to buy and maintain the next generation of green trucks. Underpaid truck drivers and overburdened taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for industry giant’s diesel mess!
Thousands of truck drivers are standing up and speaking out, and they need to know we have their backs. Take the pledge to amplify their voices and ask your friends to do the same. Across the country, I, along with partners from over 150 organizations united in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, will personally share your show of solidarity with truck drivers in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, New York, Newark, Houston and Miami.
Your past support of the LA Clean Truck Program and the Clean Ports Act of 2011 demonstrates you care deeply about clean air and good, green jobs. Let’s show these corporate bullies who trample on workers and pollute our communities just how much powerful we become when the going gets tough.
September 14, 2011
Dirty port trucks aren’t just a California problem. And they’re not just a Newark problem either. In fact, Brooklyn, home to the Brooklyn Marine Terminal, is one of the most at-risk counties in New York for health problems resulting from diesel soot.
And while community activists and clean air advocates are celebrating a recent victory to reduce diesel emissions by installing shore side power for giant cruise ships docked in Red Hook, they’re also gearing up to fight for a better clean truck program from the Port Authority.
Councilman Brad Lander, who represents port-adjacent communities in Brooklyn doesn’t believe the Port Authority’s current plan is effective because it forces hard-working, low-income truck drivers to foot the bill for clean trucks.
“They’re treated as independent contractors when they’re really employees of the truck companies,” said Councilmember Lander. “We need to have the trucking companies on the hook.”
“That burden of buying a new truck is placed entirely on the drivers,” said Brad Kerr, a board member of the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood Association. “They make very little money.”
In fact, the failure of the Port Authority’s efforts may be the reason why the agency continues to withhold important information about their program. They have not responded to an information request by Councilman Lander and most recently they refused to provide updated information to the media.
The Port Authority hasn’t just failed to clean the air and protect the residents, but the agency has also forced low-income truck drivers to take on huge debt just to keep their jobs. In some cases it has pushed drivers out of the industry altogether.
Bronx truck driver Kirby Reyes, 38, was forced to quit his job as a port trucker after 11 years. He now transfers garbage from the city out of state, a job he says he hates. “Why take a loan for $100,000? “ Reyes said. “The interest is too much.”
September 13, 2011
Port officials and shipping industry leaders attending the annual American Association of Port Authorities convention woke up to find themselves the unwitting victims of a prank by environmental, faith, labor and community activists.
Seattle’s The Stranger reports that the, “pranksters slipped a revised agenda (pdf) underneath the doors of all 900 rooms at the Westin Hotel, promoting mock sessions like The ‘Green Washing’ of the Cargo Supply Chain Award, Handout Happy Hour, Integrating Jim Crow into Today’s Workplace….The entire mock agenda is pretty well done—an informative mix of snark and pointed critique.”
While the merry pranksters and their mock agenda didn’t end all of the environmental and economic injustices at the ports, it’s just one event of many that activists are planning this week to shine a bright light on the real-world consequences of a dirty and broken port industry.