A ‘mitigation fee’? … Brilliant!!

Here’s what Daniel B. Wood wrote in the Christian Science Monitor.

“Every port in America is saddled with a chaotic transportation system, exacerbated by truck drivers who are exploited and undercapitalized, says John Canham-Clyne, spokesman for Change to Win, a labor federation and a coalition member. ‘If the [US] is going to grow its economy and do it in a way that is green, we have to remove the barriers to efficiency, safety and health that have been created by chaotic and inefficient port trucking.’

“Many trace the current problems to trucking deregulation 25 years ago. With many drivers now working as independent contractors, trucking companies do not have to pay Social Security taxes, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation for those contracted workers. To make ends meet, truckers forego upgrades to their trucks and drive older, less safe trucks.

“Another key problem, advocates say, is that truckers are paid by the truckload rather than by the hour, reducing trucking-company incentives to cut the time drivers spend waiting in line to load or unload. Waiting consumes as much as half of drivers’ time, say coalition members. Meanwhile, engines idle and diesel fumes pour into the air.”

Without a union to represent them, and with take-home pay that is unenviable, very few truckers can afford health insurance, said the owner of an Oakland-based trucking company. “It would cost me around $ 30,000 to retrofit each truck, and that is more than what I paid for the used truck.”

“Now help may be on the way,” Mr. Wood wrote. “Last week, the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports unveiled a plan calling on the two ports (LA/Long Beach) to give trucking contracts only to companies that pledge to honor existing government standards for emissions, labor practices, and national-security measures.” The coalition also says it supports the imposition of a ‘mitigation fee’ on trucks that do not meet the standards in a timely fashion. [That’ll teach ‘em. That’ll keep ‘em in line.]

Diane Bailey, a scientist with the Bay Area chapter of the Natural Resource Defense Council, said, “The reason why these trucks are so dirty is the drivers make so little money,” she said, noting that the average trucker clears no more than $ 20,000 per year. “It’s difficult to require the independent owner to bear the cost of cleaning up their trucks by either retrofitting or upgrading their trucks. The industries that are making the money from the freight transport — the shipping companies, the Wal-Marts and the ports themselves need to pick up the tab.”

Two years ago, Mr. Philip Connors, Maersk’s U.S. executive VP, was emphatic when he said that the main problem affecting harbor trucking is a shortage of drivers. He said that owner-operators offering drayage services has declined to 110,000 from 160,000 five years ago (2003) because of low pay and delays at terminals that reduce drivers’ incomes. “It is, in my opinion, a national crisis,” he said. [So how does the coalition solve the problem? With a ‘mitigation fee’? Brilliant!!]