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

Had Enough of Pollution & Poverty? Pledge to End It.

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!

Pledge to support these workers in their fight to make the global shipping and trucking industry pay to clean up their dirty diesel mess, and treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve! 

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.

Port Convention Attacked by Pranksters Armed with ‘Snark and a Pointed Critique’

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.


Outhouses and Injustices: Australia’s Toll Group Degrades America’s Truck Drivers

The ugly laws that relegated black Americans to second-class citizens for nearly a century in the post-slavery South were struck down over 45 years ago. Appallingly, that hasn’t stopped the Australian-based corporation that currently handles cargo for popular apparel and athletic brands Guess? from conducting business practices in Southern California that smack of Jim Crow.

Just as African-Americans were forced to use separate, inferior public restrooms and drinking fountains, Toll Group, a global transportation and logistics powerhouse, explicitly bars its truck drivers from using the clean and stocked indoor facilities; these roughly 75 men and women who haul imports for the fashion and footwear retail customers must share a trio of foul-smelling, unsanitary port-a-potties that lack running water outside in the company yard. Every Toll Group employee and manager is also free to use the break room during rest and meal periods, except the mostly Latino-American workers whose job it is to haul giant containers from port terminals to local warehouses.

Perhaps this multinational corporation is turning up the exploitation because many workers are too afraid to speak out when unemployment is so high. But these brave truck drivers began organizing themselves to put a stop to Toll’s inhumane treatment and now they need our help.

When the Los Angeles heat rises, or when the outhouses simply haven’t been cleaned after several shifts, drivers say they are so disgusted by the flies, the stench, and unsanitary conditions that they are better off relieving themselves outside. Female drivers don’t even have that option — they must put themselves at risk for infection by holding it until they can find a nearby fast-food chain or gas station. Workers on the night shift, like Jimmy Martinez, say it gets so dark, there’s not a chance he would enter.

On Wednesday, he and two other co-workers, Orlando Ayala and Luis Alay, attempted to speak to Toll’s top brass on behalf of 59 employees who work long hours to make their company profitable (Just last week it posted a rising net profit of $281 million). Their goal was to present a petition signed by the overwhelming majority of port drivers simply asking for equal access to clean and safe indoor restrooms and the break room; and the freedom to form a union without employer harassment and intimidation so they have the strength to end the humiliating environment and win improvements on the job.

The workers were accompanied by two advocates, Father William Connor, Priest Emeritus of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Long Beach, and the elected leader of the local union of transportation workers, Eric Tate of Teamsters Local 848. Outside, their co-workers, children and spouses hoisted signs in support of their efforts along with several dozen local residents and members of the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, an alliance of environmental, public health, faith, labor, and community groups. Port drivers from other companies nearby honked their horns in solidarity.

Inside, one of Toll’s senior executives, Vice President Rich Nazzaro, grew more defiant in the face of the workers’ calm show of unity. He flip-flopped on his previously stated open door policy by refusing to discuss remedying the injustices before refusing to accept the petition the drivers brought to him. The head of West Coast Operations even dismissed the pleas of the priest, saying that the moral and religious values of human dignity and respect may apply in church, but not in the workplace!

The situation in Los Angeles is a drastic contrast to how Toll Group treats its truck drivers in Australia. They aren’t discriminated against, nor is their profession devalued. Aussie drivers earn a fair wage for a hard day’s work, health care, and paid time off to spend with their families. That’s all their American counterparts want, but the ask is too much for a company with revenue that recently climbed 18 percent to a whopping $8.6 billion.

So what’s it going to take to get Guess?’s carrier to treat its workers with dignity and respect? Like the four students who first sat down in non-violent protest to order coffee at a “white only” lunch counter one February 1960 afternoon in Greensboro, N.C. ignited a series of growing sit-in actions that led to Woolworth’s reversing its policy of racial exclusion, Jimmy, Orlando, and Luis know that speaking truth to power is not enough. They are sparking a real movement with their co-workers, other drivers, and the community to end the pervasive injustice at their company and across the entire port trucking industry.

Already, Toll’s Australian employees and the union that represents them are publicly to speaking out against the segregation exhibited by their joint employer. Now in the U.S. the workers are asking supporters and consumers like you to sign onto the solidarity petitionto management that local residents are now circulating. On this Labor Day, please add your name and spend another minute to forward it to as many friends as possible.

Thank you for your support.

First-Rate Truck Drivers, Second-Class Citizens, & Third-World Conditions

“We are not second-class citizens, we are first-rate truck drivers….Don’t the men and women who keep the economy moving deserve a shot at the American Dream?”

Yes, Karael Vallecillos, you do. But currently, this Los Angeles father with 11 years of experience as a professional port truck driver and his co-workers aren’t even allowed to use their company’s bathroom.

Karael works long hours away from his family in what the Labor Department calls one of the nation’s Top 10 dangerous occupations. He and his co-workers have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that their Australian-based employer Toll Group, a global logistics carrier for popular fashion and athletic brands Guess? is interfering with their legal right to form a union.

Karael was recently interrogated by management for hours for a routine traffic citation – ubiquitous in the transportation industry – simply because they knew he and his co-workers began organizing. And why wouldn’t they? Toll Group, a powerful and highly profitable powerhouse, subjects its truck drivers to inhumane treatment, including foul-smelling outhouses that lack running water and are rarely cleaned. “We just want our hard work to be valued.”

The charges, which range from intimidation, harassment, and retaliation on behalf of seven employees, came two days after an overwhelming majority of the roughly 75 truck drivers at Toll Group’s Southern California facilities attempted to present 59 signatures to top management on a petition they created to indicate their desire to collectively bargain to end their deplorable working conditions.

Community advocates, clergy, local residents, and labor, environmental and public health activists, liken their working conditions to the Jim Crow laws that governed the post-slavery South until the mid 1960’s.

“I never would have imagined, in 2011, that a foreign company would force their U.S. workers to use separate, unequal outhouses. The stench and unsanitary conditions are so appalling, the drivers are better off relieving themselves outside. Female drivers don’t even have that option — they must put themselves at risk for infection by holding it,” said Father William Connor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Long Beach, CA, who accompanied the drivers in their rebuffed attempt to calmly appeal to their employer’s top brass. “I am deeply concerned that management respect the drivers’ right to decent working conditions and a living wage. The Church cares deeply about economic justice, which applies to the Toll situation.”

Father Connor added that he was disappointed that Toll’s Vice President of West Coast Operations, Rich Nazzaro, dismissed the workers’ pleas. The Pastor Emeritus vowed to work with Eric Tate, the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 848 – the truck drivers’ choice for a bargaining representative – to support the workers’ efforts to unite.

You can help Karael and his co-workers achieve justice on the job, too. Click here to sign the solidarity petition, and forward to your friends and family who stand for dignity and respect in the workplace too.


During the same week a federal court judge ruled the Port of Long Beach’s Clean Truck Program settlement with the American Trucking Associations in violation of state environmental law, the Long Beach Port Commission adds insult to injury by giving an award to the CEO of truck driver and public safety foe, SSA Marine. Jon F. Hemingway, the chief executive at Seattle based SSA Marine, was honored with the Port Pilot Award on July 22nd for his “extraordinary vision” and “leadership.”

The ill-advised recognition arrives on the heels of a Hemingway led SSA Marine losing a court appeal earlier this month to avoid paying a $14 million settlement to port driver Felipe Curiel who was nearly crushed to death in February of 2009 at Pier J in Long Beach. Despite Curiel being permanently disabled, and left dependent on orthopedic braces, SSA Marine shamelessly argued the injuries “were not that serious.” The accident occurred a week after an SSA owned Shippers Transport Express port driver, Pablo Garcia, was pinned to death between two chassis when a forklift driver struck his rig also at Pier J. The Garcia family was also awarded a monetary settlement with SSA Marine for an undisclosed large amount.

Just as SSA Marine attempts to avoid responsibility for negligence at its terminals, the industry giant is currently pursuing preferential crane rental rates for itself at the Port of Seattle. Neither the Port of Seattle, or SSA Marine has disclosed the estimated impact on tax revenue coffers, but it is believed to be in the tens of millions. This latest evasion stunt is reminiscent of the type of Wall Street trickery mastered by SSA’s 49% owner Goldman Sachs who received $23 billion in governmental aid, yet only paid a crumb of its tax liability for 2008. With little if any public scrutiny, the Port of Seattle will most likely rubberstamp SSA’s request to amend their lease agreement.

Under the helm of Jon F. Hemingway, SSA Marine has jeopardized the lives of port drivers, and has tactfully tried to enrich its coffers at the loss of revenues for publicly owned ports up and down the West Coast. So then why is the Port of Long Beach’s coronation of SSA Marine with a “prestigious” award not a surprise?  As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together.  We would not expect anything less from a port that violated the California Environmental Quality Act to appease industry’s desire for a green washed Clean Trucks Program.