Fighting the Cycle of Poverty and Pollution at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach
Today there are over 6,000 new clean trucks operating out of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Initially, these new trucks contributed to both a successful reduction in deadly diesel pollution and better working conditions for port truck drivers- but industry players have stopped all progress.
Trucking companies insist on disguising their employees as “contractors” in order to avoid paying for the purchase and maintenance of the new trucks. Individual workers are now forced to work both the day and the night shift in order to afford the company’s truck payments and are often left with meager wages that aren’t enough to even keep basic utilities on. Adding insult to injury, the maintenance necessary to keep these trucks operating properly and cleaning the air, is being delayed or not happening at all.
The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports fought for a comprehensive and sustainable solution and we will continue to fight until the complete version of the award-winning LA Clean Truck program is implemented.
Posts From Los Angeles/Long Beach
March 20, 2012
Flanked by a large group L.A. port drivers, and opening for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sierra Club’s Allison Chin, Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa delivered a thundering keynote last Thursday at the Los Angeles Good Jobs, Green Jobs Regional Conference on the on-going fight to make port trucking a good and green American job. And he got a second by both environmental champions Allison Chin and the L.A. Mayor! “We are going to look for every way we can to make sure that independent truckers who are misclassified, who are really employees in every respect of the word, that they get their justice,’’ Villaraigosa told the audience (port drivers and the greenies went bonkers after he dropped that line!). No doublespeak for the mayor either, he delivered that same message at the shippers’ conference in Long Beach a week before.
Despite the drastic reduction of drayage-based pollution at the L.A. ports, Hoffa also echoed Mayor Villaraigosa’s declaration that the fight is far from over, and the Teamsters remain fervently committed to achieving the “blue” goals of this Blue-Green Alliance—delivering good wages, and a voice on the job for drivers. The mayor reaffirmed his administration’s and the city’s commitment to changing the way the port industry treats their workforce, a.k.a. ending the misclassification swindle.
Port drivers continue being treated as second-class citizens, and enduring the third-world like working conditions, whether they’re employees or drivers disguised as “independent contractors.” Case in point: the ongoing driver battle for union recognition at Australian based Toll Group’s L.A. facilities, which has brought international attention, and solidarity from Australia’s powerful Transport Workers Union (TWU), including a vow in L.A. from TWU’s national secretary Tony Sheldon to hold Toll accountable for their disgusting labor practices
For months, Toll Group drivers have been engaged in a fight to achieve dignified workplace conditions, such as access to clean restrooms with running water, and the right to vote for their union without bullying by management, and their union-busting consultants. Just last week, Xiomara Perez, a port truck-driving mother of three, was fired by Toll after making an emergency pit stop at a McDonald’s to use the restroom. Apparently the company finds not “holding it” completely unacceptable for their hard-working employees that make the $8.8 billion conglomerate profitable.
Well Xiomara isn’t holding back something else either—her story, and willingness to continue the fight. With Hoffa and her fellow port drivers on stage, and both TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon and the L.A. mayor in the audience, Xiomara delivered a heartfelt speech on what they’ve endured to arrive at the cusp of achieving the biggest Teamster victory in the port industry with Toll’s upcoming union election. And guess who has her back? L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
As if Xiomara’s story and the treatment by her employer wasn’t shady enough, she was joined by Carla Campos, a worker from a local recycling facility, American Reclamation, who also described the third-word like workplace conditions she stand against. Like Xiomara, Carla Campos was also fired for flagging health and safety obligations. Based on the successes and framework of the Clean and Safe Ports Campaign, cleaning up the L.A. recycling industry has been the basis of the “Don’t Waste LA” campaign, a blue-green effort to increase the rates of recycling, and set safety and workplace standards.
Two valiant women, mirror image campaigns, and one common goal: cleaning up industry’s act. If L.A. waste doesn’t end up in our backyards in urban landfills, it finds its way to the ports ready for export on trucks being driven by workers like Xiomara Perez.
The message out of the conference is crystal clear: jobs can’t be good or green if they’re not union!
Why let great keynotes go to waste? Watch the full morning plenary of the L.A. Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference
February 7, 2012
Toll Watch provides real-time dispatches, live updates and social media/video updates to assist LA workers achieve democracy in the workplace. We keep tabs on Toll Group by monitoring and reporting the company’s attempts to undermine their worker’s right to a free and fair vote to unionize. [Read our first Toll Watch and sign up here for instant alerts.]
Determined to keep all eyes on a fair process, a group of community watchdogs went out on their first monitoring shift outside Toll’s yard. The units, consisting of community, labor, and public health groups, are serving as roving watchdogs to closely monitor management’s behavior.
Weathering the cold evening breeze near the port, and with clipboards in hand, they talked to a dozen Toll drivers eager to relay Toll’s latest dirty tricks and anti-union election shenanigans. True to form, what they heard and documented is consistent with Toll management’s antagonistic behavior thus far. See what community monitor, Amanda Mendoza, found out…
February 3, 2012
The first in a series of real-time dispatches, live updates and social media/video updates to assist LA workers achieve democracy in the workplace by monitoring and reporting Toll Group’s attempts to undermine their free and fair vote to unionize. [Check out Toll Watch for latest updates or sign up here for instant alerts.]
It’s not hard to make some assumptions about who the underdog is here.
In our corner you have roughly 75 underpaid Southern California workers who have endured nearly a year of humiliation and harassment on the job. On the other side, there’s an Australian CFO-turned-CEO of an $8.3 billion global mega corporation and his team of U.S. executive henchmen.
Astonishingly though, it was the truck drivers who challenged their employer to step into the ring. Last week, via an international telephone press briefing, they announced they had filed for a workplace election – a balloting process unlike voting in an American political context that has been compared to “illegitimate charades staged by authoritative regimes outside of democratic nations.”
So why are these workers inviting what is seemingly a fixed fight?
First, these symbols of the 99% are as smart as they are strong when it comes to overcoming their handicap against the 1%. They launched their challenge just as the nation’s top labor agency issued a formal complaint stating that Toll “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The move by the National Labor Relations Board is the result of Toll refusing to remedy a series of workplace violations and the company will now be prosecuted in an upcoming federal trial. Second, while a workplace election is advantageous to union hostile employers, the workers have carefully evaluated the risks, assessed their strong majority support for the union, and came up with a real plan to withstand the sucker punches their employer is sure to pull.
Since the drivers can’t rely on “good sportsmanship” of Toll Group to give a clean fight, they’ve put the call out to an alliance of community, labor, and public health groups to join their corner, and they’ve accepted. The alliance will serve as roving watchdogs to closely monitor management’s behavior. Each week several trained advocates will drop by the Toll yard at undisclosed times so workers can report any employer foul play such as spying, harassment, and unwarranted disciplinary actions.
Not wasting any time, the port driver’s corner threw the first combination of punches last week. A delegation of local clergy went to Toll’s facility to deliver a set of principles for the company to agree to ensure a clean and fair election—they were shunned (see the delegation video).
“We were treated with disdain. Why are they afraid of clergy and other religious leaders in our support of their truck drivers’ efforts to union?” recounted delegation member Father William Connor of Long Beach during a teleconference, “If this is how they treat us, how much worse must be their treatment of their employees?” He adds, “These drivers are members of our congregations and our community. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Drivers are welcoming the additional set of eyes on the prize. “I am heartened by the tremendous support the community and clergy is once again providing in this fight of our lives. Time and time again they’ve collected petitions, sent letters, and marched with us to pressure the company at every turn. Now they’re here monitoring to insure we get the victory we deserve,” states Xiorama Perez, a 41 year-old mother of three, and Toll port driver.
The efforts of first community monitoring is already paying dividends. Last night, the monitors started taking note of the new union-busting tactics being reported by drivers. Toll’s Texan union-buster has forced drivers to screen anti-union videos during mandatory meetings to sway their vote from yes to no.
Sounds like the first of Toll’s blows below the belt! More info coming very soon, stay tuned…
December 12, 2011
We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.
We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers. Between the five of us we have 11children and one more baby on the way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our shores for America’s stores.
We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible.
Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?
We love being behind the wheel. We are proud of the work we do to keep America’s economy moving. But we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part time at a fast-food counter. Especially when we work an average of 60 or more hours a week, away from our families.
There is so much at stake in our industry. It is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. We don’t think truck driving should be a dead-end road in America. It should be a good job with a middle-class paycheck like it used to be decades ago.
We desperately want to drive clean and safe vehicles. Rigs that do not fill our lungs with deadly toxins, or dirty the air in the communities we haul in.
Poverty and pollution are like a plague at the ports. Our economic conditions are what led to the environmental crisis.
You, the public, have paid a severe price along with us.
Why? Just like Wall Street doesn’t have to abide by rules, our industry isn’t bound to regulation. So the market is run by con artists. The companies we work for call us independent contractors, as if we were our own bosses, but they boss us around. We receive Third World wages and drive sweatshops on wheels. We cannot negotiate our rates. (Usually we are not allowed to even see them.) We are paid by the load, not by the hour. So when we sit in those long lines at the terminals, or if we are stuck in traffic, we become volunteers who basically donate our time to the trucking and shipping companies. That’s the nice way to put it. We have all heard the words “modern-day slaves” at the lunch stops.
There are no restrooms for drivers. We keep empty bottles in our cabs. Plastic bags too. We feel like dogs. An Oakland driver was recently banned from the terminal because he was spied relieving himself behind a container. Neither the port, nor the terminal operators or anyone in the industry thinks it is their responsibility to provide humane and hygienic facilities for us. It is absolutely horrible for drivers who are women, who risk infection when they try to hold it until they can find a place to go.
The companies demand we cut corners to compete. It makes our roads less safe. When we try to blow the whistle about skipped inspections, faulty equipment, or falsified logs, then we are “starved out.” That means we are either fired outright, or more likely, we never get dispatched to haul a load again.
It may be difficult to comprehend the complex issues and nature of our employment. For us too. When businesses disguise workers like us as contractors, the Department of Labor calls it misclassification. We call it illegal. Those who profit from global trade and goods movement are getting away with it because everyone is doing it. One journalist took the time to talk to us this week and she explains it very well to outsiders. We hope you will read the enclosed article “How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck Drivers.”
But the short answer to the question: Why are companies like SSA Marine, the Seattle-based global terminal operator that runs one of the West Coast’s major trucking carriers, Shippers’ Transport Express, doing this? Why would mega-rich Maersk, a huge Danish shipping and trucking conglomerate that wants to drill for more oil with Exxon Mobil in the Gulf Coast conduct business this way too?
To cheat on taxes, drive down business costs, and deny us the right to belong to a union, that’s why.
The typical arrangement works like this: Everything comes out of our pockets or is deducted from our paychecks. The truck or lease, fuel, insurance, registration, you name it. Our employers do not have to pay the costs of meeting emissions-compliant regulations; that is our financial burden to bear. Clean trucks cost about four to five times more than what we take home in a year. A few of us haul our company’s trucks for a tiny fraction of what the shippers pay per load instead of an hourly wage. They still call us independent owner-operators and give us a 1099 rather than a W-2.
We have never recovered from losing our basic rights as employees in America. Every year it literally goes from bad to worse to the unimaginable. We were ground zero for the government’s first major experiment into letting big business call the shots. Since it worked so well for the CEOs in transportation, why not the mortgage and banking industry too?
Even the few of us who are hired as legitimate employees are routinely denied our legal rights under this system. Just ask our co-workers who haul clothing brands like Guess?, Under Armour, and Ralph Lauren’s Polo. The carrier they work for in Los Angeles is called Toll Group and is headquartered in Australia. At the busiest time of the holiday shopping season, 26 drivers were axed after wearing Teamster T-shirts to work. They were protesting the lack of access to clean, indoor restrooms with running water. The company hired an anti-union consultant to intimidate the drivers. Down Under, the same company bargains with 12,000 of our counterparts in good faith.
Despite our great hardships, many of us cannot — or refuse to, as some of the most well-intentioned suggest — “just quit.” First, we want to work and do not have a safety net. Many of us are tied to one-sided leases. But more importantly, why should we have to leave? Truck driving is what we do, and we do it well.
We are the skilled, specially-licensed professionals who guarantee that Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are all stocked with just-in-time delivery for consumers. Take a look at all the stuff in your house. The things you see advertised on TV. Chances are a port truck driver brought that special holiday gift to the store you bought it.
We would rather stick together and transform our industry from within. We deserve to be fairly rewarded and valued. That is why we have united to stage convoys, park our trucks, marched on the boss, and even shut down these ports.
It’s like our hero Dutch Prior, a Shipper’s/SSA Marine driver, told CBS Early Morning this month: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
The more underwater we are, the more our restlessness grows. We are being thoughtful about how best to organize ourselves and do what is needed to win dignity, respect, and justice.
Nowadays greedy corporations are treated as “people” while the politicians they bankroll cast union members who try to improve their workplaces as “thugs.”
But we believe in the power and potential behind a truly united 99%. We admire the strength and perseverance of the longshoremen. We are fighting like mad to overcome our exploitation, so please, stick by us long after December 12. Our friends in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports created a pledge you can sign to support us here.
We drivers have a saying, “We may not have a union yet, but no one can stop us from acting like one.”
The brothers and sisters of the Teamsters have our backs. They help us make our voices heard. But we need your help too so we can achieve the day where we raise our fists and together declare: “No one could stop us from forming a union.”
SSA Marine/Shippers Transport Express
Port of Long Beach
Ports of Seattle & Tacoma
6-year port driver
Port of Los Angeles
Port of Oakland
7-year port driver
Ports of New York & New Jersey
15-year port driver
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.”