FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 29, 2010
CONTACT: Paul Karr, 917-208-5155, email@example.com
Looming Deadline to Force Hundreds of Port Truck Drivers Deeper Into Debt or Out on the Streets in the New Year
Truck Drivers, Environmentalists, Labor Advocates United in Opposition to Ineffective, Misguided Port Authority Truck Ban
NEW YORK – For more than a decade Kirby Reyes’ livelihood as a port truck driver has depended on his 1991 Peterbuilt truck. But under an important but deeply flawed environmental Port Authority rule, drivers like Kirby, who studies show average $28,700 a year, face unemployment or massive debt starting January 1. The new rule banning big rigs built before 1994 from port property requires these low-income truck drivers to purchase expensive low-emissions vehicles, subsidized by taxpayers, in order to keep their jobs.
“We all want to drive clean trucks, but the Port Authority should make the shipping and trucking companies foot the bill, not individual workers like me,” said Kirby Reyes, a single-father living in the Bronx who is considered an independent driver, just as the vast majority of the nation’s 110,000 truck drivers are. “This ends my career as a port truck driver because I can’t afford a new loan for a $120,000 truck and still put food on the table for my 11-year-old daughter. What truck driver can?”
The truck ban is meant to reduce toxic diesel emissions from old trucks that move containers in and out of the largest port complex on the East coast. But leading environmentalists like Rev. Fletcher Harper from GreenFaith say that the Port Authority’s truck ban will fail to clean the air.
“The only thing aggressive about this environmental measure is that it places a severe economic burden on individuals who earn $10 an hour, rather than the giant shipping companies like Target and Wal-Mart and the trucking outfits that profit from goods movement. The Port Authority program is a disaster of a policy because it ignores the pernicious business model that wrongly forces a low-wage contract workforce to own and operate the fleet. These sophisticated technology trucks don’t maintain themselves. It’s as immoral as it is unsustainable.”
Labor advocates who have long asserted port drivers are “independent” in name only agree.
“U.S. ports have earned the notorious reputation as ‘the place where old trucks go to die,’” says Fred Potter, head of the Port Division at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Not because truck drivers in this critical American industry want to drive dirty trucks, but because lax regulation, little oversight, and lousy enforcement force them to drive dirty trucks.”
GreenFaith has joined with the New Jersey Environmental Federation and the Teamsters, and an unprecedented nationwide alliance of 150 public health, civil rights, labor, community, business and faith-based organizations are actively advocating for clean truck programs that require trucking companies to directly employ their drivers as the logical means to shift financial and legal accountability for clean truck replacement and maintenance onto companies with the capital to afford it, a model advanced by the nation’s largest port. The Los Angeles Clean Truck Program put more than 8,500 clean trucks into service, reduced diesel emissions by more than 80 percent, and cleared the way for job-creating infrastructure projects that had been blocked for years, despite numerous industry efforts to gut the green-growth policy in court. A Federal judge has upheld the Port of Los Angeles program in its entirety.
The Port Authority has another reason to emulate Los Angeles’ EPA-award winning program: A recent report by National Employment Law Project and Change to Win found that the vast majority of truck drivers at the largest ports are illegally misclassified as independent contractors, which saves employers up to 30 percent in payroll costs, undercuts businesses who pay taxes, and puts workers in precarious circumstances where they don’t qualify for unemployment protection, workers’ compensation or even social security.
The Obama Administration has made it a priority to crack down on this growing illegal employer tactic across industries, but there are even greater consequences in port trucking.
“Coast to coast, the industry forces the cost of truck operation and maintenance onto the workers behind the wheel, and as a result, old, diesel-spewing rigs fill U.S. transportation corridors because that’s all these low-wage earners can afford,” said Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club in a recent report on misclassification in the port trucking industry. “Dire economic conditions led to the environmental crisis in the first place – we strongly suspect the culprit is not misbehavior by a few companies, but rampant misclassification in port trucking on the whole.”
“If the trucking company I work for gave me a W-2 like other workers then I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now,” said Kirby Reyes, who after ten years on the job will be ineligible for unemployment benefits because he is treated as a contractor. “I can’t understand why the Port Authority is punishing drivers like me, when they should be going after the industry that is polluting the air and breaking the law.”