Idle Hands

Francine Brevetti at the Bay Area News gave us some insight Jan. 2nd into the problems truckers and trucking companies are having with the asinine proposals fostered by those who should know better. Port of Oakland officials, she writes, have presented a proposal “that would encourage trucking companies to hire drivers and assume ownership and maintenance of hauling equipment. Such a plan would reduce pollution from poorly maintained old trucks and employers would provide better wages for the drivers, officials said …”

“The Port of Oakland has been waiting to implement its clean truck program until officials see how similar plans work at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

“On Dec 20, Los Angeles and Long Beach issued the first element of their Clean Air Action Plan which levies a $ 35 fee on any 20-foot container coming in or out of the ports, or $ 70 for a 40-foot box.”

“The drivers are on the front line of a debate raging at ports nationwide over the best way to reduce air pollution caused by idling trucks. At the Port of Oakland, that debate has crystalized into a proposal that calls for trucking companies to hire drivers – rather than use them as independent contractors. It’s hoped that the companies can afford cleaner-burning trucks than the drivers can afford on their wages.

“The drivers support this plan, saying it will help ensure them a livable wage, but companies oppose it, saying the additional expense would cut into their bottom line.

“The drivers wait in their cabs for hours a day, hoping for a load of cargo to deliver …”

“Some drivers may wait up to 15 hours for no work at all. Other days, the work they get may not pay their bills … These owner-operators are solely responsible for the purchase and upkeep of their 10- to 18-wheeled trucks …”

“New trucks can cost upward of $ 120,000. Used ones cost what the market will bear, depending, like automobiles, on make, year and condition. Mohammed Asif bought his last truck used in 2006 for $ 6,000, but Verekey Woldegorgis, another independent, spent $ 20,000 for his second-hand equipment.

“More than 50 percent of the truck drivers who serve California Ports earn no more than $ 30,000 a year after expenses, according to a report by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports. On such wages, the drivers cannot buy and maintain the most fuel-efficient rigs, the organizations argue …”

“The trucking companies, however, say they cannot shoulder the additional economic burdens of hiring drivers and acquiring trucks.

“Jogjait Dulay, owner of Golden Temple Shipping in Fremont, said the change would force him out of business.

“‘There’s no way we could buy one of those trucks,’ he said.

“Several trucking company owners, such as Jerry Phillips of IMPACT Transload and Rail, based in Richmond, said drivers want to remain independent. But this belief does not jibe with the petition 1,250 of the port’s 1,500 drivers signed, saying they would prefer to be employed by trucking companies …”

Asif said he would jump at the chance to be employed.

“‘Most of my fellow drivers don’t want to be independent contractors because they know that as long as they are independent contractors, they cannot make a union,” he said. ‘If truck drivers do not get a union, the system cannot be fixed.’

“The Teamsters union has been trying to organize port drivers for decades, said Chuck Mack, director of ports of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The union cannot represent self-employed drivers, but Mack said, “We’re comfortable we’re going to change the model in Oakland and Los Angeles/Long Beach. …”

“On a typical day, Asif leaves his apartment early to drive his truck — which is parked on the property of Shipper’s Transport Express on Burma Road — to the trucking company he contracts with.

“Asif and hundreds of other truck drivers arrive before dawn to line up at different terminals hoping for an assignment, if there are any, from their trucking company’s dispatcher, who arrives at 7 a.m.

“While they wait, sometimes for hours with idling engines, their trucks spew exhaust fumes. Angry neighbors in West Oakland complain of higher rates of asthma and other breathing ailments. A study released in December by the National Resources Defense Council and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports found that truck drivers suffer from the same ailments and are at a higher risk for cancer because of the time they spend in their idling trucks.

“Of course, I’m considering leaving this job,” Asif said. “There’s no income …”

“Vereket Woldegorgis has been a self-employed driver for 15 years.

“I have to get in line every day,” he said. “I may get one or two loads all day at $ 50 a load. A load may take me 20 minutes or two hours to deliver.

“We are just surviving.”

[New trucks, employed drivers, $ 70 container fees … no problem. Add it to the consumer’s bill.]