Fighting for a Real Solution at the Oakland Port
For the last three decades Oakland residents have been suffering from premature death, asthma, cancer and heart disease as a result of port pollution. To alleviate the health impacts the industry should have replaced old polluting trucks with new clean trucks.
However, industry litigation led to a band-aid solution that instead requires individual port truck drivers and tax payers to pay for the cost of cleaning up industry’s mess. Trucking companies got off scot free by continuing to claim that their employees are “contractors.” Today truck drivers are losing their hard-earned money, their homes and the few trucks that were purchased or retrofitted to meet air standards are gradually falling apart.
The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports is determined to continue fighting for a real solution that will finally hold the polluting industry responsible for their workers and the long overdue clean up.
Posts From Oakland
April 28, 2011
From Wall Street to the America’s ports, working families can’t catch a break from tax cheating corporations – and a top-ranking California Assemblymember calls them out in an op-ed in this week’s Oakland Tribune, while highlighting legislation aimed at taking the “trickery out of trucking.”
The already notorious Goldman Sachs - who received $23 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department but only paid 1.1% of its 2008 income in taxes after raking in $2.3 billion in profit - also has its tentacles wrapped around port truck drivers and their families. The infamous firm owns half of Seattle-based SSA Marine, a transportation outfit that owns major port terminals in the United States and around the world and runs one of the largest trucking companies in California and the West Coast.
And since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it’s no wonder that while Goldman Sachs was forcing working families out of their homes during the mortgage meltdown, port trucking companies like SSA were driving port truckers into bankruptcy and foreclosures. By using illegal sub-contracting, known as “employee misclassification,” these companies not only dodge taxes but they also sidestep basic corporate responsibility towards public safety. Currently truck drivers lack fundamental employee protections including the ability to report safety concerns – like the use of faulty equipment to move hazardous loads through public streets – without suffering retaliation or termination.
The concern over the impact on both workers and public safety recently reached our state’s capital when Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Assemblyman Sandré Swanson introduced AB 950, the Truck Driver Employment and Public Safety Protection Act. AB 950 would specifically require port truck drivers to be treated as employees of the trucking or shipping companies who arrange for or engage these workers’ services, so they will be protected under California’s workplace and safety laws.
To curb tax dodging in the port economy and improve public and worker safety, Assemblymember Swanson, who is also the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment, used Tax Week to highlight the legislation. In the op-ed, Swanson points out that “Drivers mislabeled as “independent contractors” are paid low, nonnegotiable wages and are denied protections and benefits that most workers receive from their employers including workers’ compensation, disability, Social Security and the minimum wage. Meanwhile, the companies skirt state and federal payroll taxes.”
Swanson ends his op-ed by sending a clear and strong message: “Gaming the system, Goldman Sach’s Wall Street style is not welcome at our trade hubs, one of the state’s most valuable economic engines.” AB 950 is expected to be heard on May 4th in the State Capitol.
March 24, 2011
Will Cantrell is as proud of the work he performs to keep America’s economy moving as he is appalled at the conditions his industry creates for him and his co-workers.
Like most port drivers, Will is called an “independent contractor.” But he is prohibited from hauling for more than one company, he told USA Today, which reported on the widespread scam to cheat on taxes and rob workers of basic protections. Will’s company deducts $1,200 a month from his paycheck for use of their truck and pays him non-negotiable rates. On average, he puts up another $800 weekly for fuel and insurance. His paychecks are always a surprise, and usually disappointing after a 57-60 hour workweek.
So Will appeared at the last Oakland Port meeting. He asked commissioners, how can you let this industry I have trained for, invested in, and dedicated my life to systematically short-change the men and women who help make it profitable?
A fellow 25-year truck driver then detailed findings of a new three-port survey and analysis. Longer Hours, Lower Wages & Little Hope is the first snapshot of drivers’ economic outlook since industry crippled U.S. ports’ efforts to set new environmental and operational standards to clean up the sector. Oakland officials were tight-lipped after learning 25% of their drivers had declared bankruptcy, been evicted and/or foreclosed on since operating a new or retrofitted truck. In contrast, LA Harbor Commissioners couldn’t stop asking questions after a recent similar presentation.
Will revealed how he makes ends meet: Forgo the dream of having a family. The 38-year-old has deemed himself an ineligible bachelor, for having a wife and children under these financial circumstances would be “irresponsible.” He gave up his own apartment and lives with three roommates to keep expenses down.
But a resolute Will vowed to transform his industry rather than quit it. He is determined to regain collective bargaining rights in port trucking. In the meantime, he wore a homemade shirt with the words “End Sweatshops on Wheels” for the occasion.
February 22, 2011
Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a friend-of-the-court brief in defense of the award-winning Clean Truck Program at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney General Harris’ critical endorsement provides yet another boost in the case to secure clean air and green jobs at the nation’s largest port.
The urges the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to preserve the in favor of the Clean Trucks Program and argues that the Port of Los Angeles as a market participant bears the right to curb pollution as its business expands. For years, port adjacent communities suffered some of worst air quality in the LA region due to dirty trucking operations at the port.
The support of the new Attorney General deals another blow to the American Trucking Associations’ stubborn efforts to stop the sustainment of better air quality in and around the ports.
February 10, 2011
This week a group of truck drivers, community residents, labor advocates and environmentalists made their way to Washington D.C. to participate in the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference and speak out in support of the Clean Ports Act of 2011.
Among the group is Carlos Santamaria, who grew up in Wilmington, CA one of the port-adjacent communities most impacted by the diesel soaked air. Carlos knows first-hand that as long as trucking companies continue to wash their hands of all responsibility by renaming their employees “contractors,” families like his will continue to suffer the impacts of air pollution.
As a child Carlos witnessed his father, a port truck driver, struggling with the expensive maintenance of the truck he was forced to own in order to work at the ports. As an adult, Carlos himself worked as a port truck driver and lived through the nightmare of being called a “contractor” and forced to pay for a truck he simply couldn’t afford.
Carlos now dedicates his days to encouraging drivers to fight for their American Dream. And today he shared that dream with Sen. Dianne Feinstein while speaking out on Capitol Hill and making a compelling case for the Senator to support the Clean Ports Act.
February 9, 2011
“The Clean Ports Act represents a crucial modernization of federal law that would dramatically improve the quality of air for the estimated 87 million Americans who live and work near major container ports,” said Rep. Nadler. “It is indefensible that ports are being challenged from enforcing clean truck programs to replace highly polluting and outmoded diesel trucks. Such pollution profoundly increases rates of asthma, cancer, and heart disease and contributes to a growing public health crisis across the nation. I join American labor, business, environmental groups, consumer groups, and others to clean up our ports and protect Americans from unnecessary pollution.”
The bill, which has 50 original co-sponsors, would protect clean truck programs and reduce harmful air pollution from trucks in port cities on both coasts.
“Our collective failure to protect the public from diesel pollution is a moral outrage and a shame on our nation. Fortunately, the Obama Administration appreciates that Americans want and deserve clean air and the sustainable jobs that accompany it,” said Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club. In the case of Los Angeles, there’s a proven track record of success. “Congress should embrace this local green-growth model and take action to protect it.”