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
September 10, 2011
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.
September 9, 2011
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.
July 28, 2011
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.
A Victory for Long Beach Residents in the Continued Fight Against a Greenwashed Version of the Clean Air Program
July 21, 2011
A federal district court judge ruled last week that the Long Beach Harbor Commission violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it altered its clean trucks program to appease the American Trucking Associations without first performing the required review. Judge Christina A. Snyder has ordered the Port of Long Beach to carry out the state mandated study on the environmental impacts of the changes made to its program, with public input and transparency.
This Court decision is a victory for Long Beach residents. The ruling affirms concerns from clean air advocates that have long declared the Long Beach Port’s backroom deal nothing short of caving in to industry polluters at the expense of residents and the environment. In their settlement with the American Trucking Associations – an organization that has opposed clean air regulation locally and nationally – the port let industry polluters off the hook by giving up the concession agreements designed to monitor and enforce emission standards.
Community groups, environmentalists, harbor residents and workers continue to stand behind the comprehensive EPA award-winning program at the neighboring Los Angeles Port, where enforcing emission standards by holding trucking companies directly responsible for the purchase and maintenance of the clean truck fleets remains a priority.
The Los Angeles Clean Truck Program continues to be the only long-term sustainable model worth fighting for. From our perspective, and economists agree, contract drivers are paid too little to acquire and properly maintain clean-technology trucks. Already the implementation of incomplete and weakened versions of clean truck programs like the program at the Port of Long Beach have given way to the very reality that created the cycle of poverty and pollution we have fought against. Individual workers are being forced to pay for these new trucks, putting working families in the difficult position of choosing between necessary truck maintenance and paying their bills at home.
We will not stop fighting until we achieve a stable and sustainable port trucking market that is no longer subsidized by the lungs or livelihoods of drivers and port communities.
May 12, 2011
A jury awarded a $14 million injury settlement in the gruesome accident at the SSA Marine terminal at the Port of Long Beach that forever changed life for a 42-year-old truck driver. In February 2009, Felipe Curiel miraculously survived after suffering massive injuries from being pancaked in his rig by a cargo container at the hands of an SSA crane operator. While his career ended that day, today he manages to walk with leg braces and a cane.
SSA, the global shipping and transportation outfit jointly owned by Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, is no stranger to negligence or traumatic accidents at their terminals. Just days before Mr. Curiel was saved by the “jaws of life,” fellow port truck driver Pablo Garcia, a 40-year-old father of three, was crushed to death in a preventable accident involving a forklift and steel port machinery. The story made national headlines and was the subject of a special report in Univision’s leading television news magazine “Primer Impacto.” The Garcia family also successfully brought suit against the Seattle-based port giant SSA Marine, the parent to the large West Coast trucking company, Shippers Transport Express, and recently settled for an undisclosed amount.
These are not isolated incidents but rather everyday hazards in the lives of the ten thousands of truck drivers that work at U.S. ports. While rare monetary settlements might bring some assistance and closure to the Garcia and Curiel families, skilled workers responsible for commanding the wheel of container rigs weighing up to 80,000 lbs. remain highly vulnerable to job-related tragedies. Their employers’ favored business model – illegal subcontracting – means drivers lack the basic workplace protections they need such as workers’ compensation and safety whistleblower protections. Wrongful employment status further excludes the men and women who work in one of America’s most dangerous industries from a critical form of recourse: government safety agencies cannot investigate injuries they may suffer on the job, permitting their companies to shed any scrutiny, let alone liability.
Abdul Khan, a father of two young girls who has hauled cargo in and out of the Port of Oakland for six years, chillingly put it this way: “All day long we are surrounded by heavy machinery that can take a limb or our lives in the blink of an eye, but we don’t even have the protections that will keep us or the public safe.”
Advocates helped ensure Garcia and Curiel’s catastrophes were widely publicized, but countless other “under the radar” injuries and accidents demonstrate a clear-cut need for the government to establish and enforce real safety and labor reforms in the port trucking industry. The urgency has reached California’s Assembly in the form of AB 950, the Truck Driver Employment and Public Safety Protection Act. Co-sponsored by Assembly speaker John Pérez and Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, the bill would require port drivers to be treated as employees of the trucking or shipping companies that arrange for or engage these workers’ services. No longer would drivers be denied workers’ compensation, disability benefits, or be retaliated against for voicing safety concerns and violations.
AB 950 is a step in the right direction to bringing all port drivers closer to justice.