The End of the Line
The following article by Viji Sundaram appeared in the “New American Media” on June 26th, and we’ve decided to print it in its entirety. This report places emphasis on the undesirable working conditions we’ve complained about in our earlier commentaries.
“OAKLAND, Calif. – Even as the Port of Oakland is trying to put in place a long overdue air quality plan and a comprehensive truck management program, there is disagreement among the 2,500 or so truck drivers who currently haul goods in and out of the port on how this should be done.
“The fourth-largest port in the nation, the Port of Oakland generates $ 1.7 billion in annual revenue for the region. Yet, the average truck driver makes no more than seven dollars an hour after expenses. And less than 10 percent of them have health insurance even though they are working in conditions hazardous to their health.
“The port pumps out some of the most polluted air in the San Francisco Bay Area. Poorly maintained old trucks waiting in long lines spew diesel fumes into West Oakland, where the port is located, and into surrounding communities. Residents suffer one of the highest asthma rates in the state. The American Lung Association estimates that one in five children in the area has asthma. Drivers often wait for an average of two-and-a-half hours to pick up a single port container. They report asthma, dizziness and vomiting from the fumes.
“Activists say that the trucking system is ‘broken’, that there is no oversight by the port, resulting in big box retailers and the steam ship lines paying less than it actually costs to move goods, passing costs onto trucking companies that contract with the truck drivers.
“‘The port, the retailers and the terminal operators are all making money on the backs of the truck drivers, who are on the whim of a system that is broken,’ asserted Beth Trimarco, spokesperson of the non-profit Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports (CCSP). ‘You have the Wal-Marts, the Targets and the Home Depots contracting out their responsibility for air pollution to the truck companies, and the trucking companies contracting out their responsibility to truck drivers.’
“As Doug Bloch, CCSP campaign coordinator, put it, the ‘only way you can fix the environmental issue is to fix the living conditions of the truck drivers.’ According to Bloch, about half of the truckers who work at the port say they want to surrender their independent operator status and work as employees, even unionize if need be, so they can be assured of decent wages and health care for themselves and their families.
“‘We’re not making much money, maybe seven to eight dollars an hour,’ said 36-year-old Lorenzo Fernandez, an independent contractor and an immigrant from El Salvador. ‘And 80 to 90 percent of us have no health insurance, no retirement, no nothing.’ Fernandez was one of the 1,200 truck drivers recently polled by CCSP on whether they want to remain independent contractors or unionize.
“But some truckers say they prefer driving their own trucks, some of which are as old as they are, and being their own bosses, even if it means not getting big bucks at the end of the day.
“‘I prefer being self-employed,’ said Francisco Leon, 39, a truck driver since 1996. ‘I enjoy the independence it gives me even though I am driving a 1974 truck.’
“On June 27, truckers across California are planning to stage protest rallies in front of the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, demanding an end to what they call ‘sweatshops on wheels.’
“Oakland port officials are keenly watching their Long Beach and Los Angeles counterparts, who are shortly going to roll out a plan, called the Clean Trucks Program, to clear the air around the ports. The plan calls for retrofitting or replacing old, polluting trucks with cleaner ones. Only the cleaner trucks will be permitted into the ports. Port officials believe the plan, which they hope to enforce in the beginning of next year, will reduce air pollution by 80 percent in the next five years.
“As employees they can collectively negotiate for better pay and better health care, Bloch said. With better pay, they can maintain their trucks better.
“But the possibility of independent truck drivers becoming employees worries some small trucking company owners, who fear they will be put out of business. Bill Aboudi of the Oakland-based AB Trucking, for one.
“‘Of course we want a cleaner port, and better working conditions and better pay for the drivers,’ asserted Aboudi, a member of the California Trucking Association. ‘But we don’t want to become a test case for the port. If the plan doesn’t work, it will put a lot of mom-and-pop operations out of business.’
“Trimarco isn’t sympathetic about such concerns. ‘Right now, the broken system is working for (the California Trucking Association) because they don’t have to maintain their old trucks,’ she said.
“Over the past few months, port officials have replaced 40 trucks with low-sulfur diesel trucks with emission restriction components, under a $ 9 million out-of-court settlement the port made with West Oakland neighborhood groups that sued the port for polluting the area. Another 25 or so are in the pipeline, according to Harold Jones, the port’s deputy executive director.
“Many truckers say they can’t afford the $ 6,000 it costs them to replace a truck, which is 10 percent of the total cost of a new truck.
“Libby Schaaf, the port’s public affairs director, maintained that the port is ‘interested in improving the efficiency of the cargo movement, and seeing that the truckers make a better living.’
“But port officials are taking a hands-off approach on the labor issue. ‘We don’t think we should be involved in the issue of independent contractors,’ Schaaf said. Meanwhile, environmental justice advocates think the port should step in and take more of a leadership role.
“‘After all, they own the property,’ observed Swati Prakash, program director of the Oakland-based non-profit Pacific Institute. ‘They should have an organized relationship with the trucking industry.’”
Amen, we say to all that. Now let’s review some of what the writer is pointing out.
• “ … the average driver makes no more than seven dollars an hour after expenses.”
• “ … less than 10 percent of them have health insurance even though they are working in conditions hazardous to their health.”
• “ … old trucks waiting in long lines spew diesel fumes into West Oakland …”
• “Drivers often wait for an average of two-and-a-half hours to pick up a single port container.”
• “ … big box retailers and steam ship lines pay(ing) less than it actually costs to move goods, passing costs onto trucking companies that contract with truck drivers.”
• “The port, the retailers and the terminal operators are all making money on the backs of the truck drivers …”
• “You have the Wal-Marts, the Targets and the Home Depots contracting out their responsibility for air pollution to the trucking companies, and the trucking companies contracting out their responsibility to the truck drivers.”
• “ … the ‘only way you can fix the environmental issue is to fix the living conditions of the truck drivers.’”
• “ … and work as employees, even unionize if need be, so they can be assured of decent wages and health care for their families.”
• “Many truckers say they can’t afford the $ 6,000 it costs them to replace a truck, which is 10 percent of the total cost of a new truck.”
Our patented systems take every one of those complaints off the table because:
• Our in-house delivery system will employ every driver and guarantee a $ 75,000 annual salary, plus health insurance and a retirement plan as well.
• Every driver will be programmed in advance for deliveries. There will be no waiting lines and no gates, therefore trucks will not be idling and spewing pollution.
• Retailers and carriers will pay their fair shares and will not pass on unfair costs.
• Drivers will be unionized, and all trucks will be owned and maintained by our in-house delivery system.
These are just some of the benefits our patented systems provide. We’ve been stonewalled, however.