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Trucking Industry Exposed for "Ripping Off" Workers and Taxpayers

Posted by on December 2nd, 2011
Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports

What is the trucking industry response to claims that port drivers are actually employees who have been stripped of their basic rights by trucking companies' Robert Digges, a spokesman for the tongue on a CBS national news segment when he tried protesting the idea that trucking companies are cheating workers - and it's getting picked up on blogs like the Daily Kos.

“They (trucking companies) believe they get a more productive employee – excuse me a more effective worker – a worker who is efficient, who has some skin in the game.”

So, the industry that dismantled the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program finally lets the truth slip: port truck drivers are actually employees who have had their rights stripped from them by greedy port trucking companies seeking to pad their bottom line.

“As long as we are independent contractors (the company) doesn’t have to cover benefits, they don’t have to cover sick days, bereavement leave time, holiday pay. It just saves the company money,” said Dutch Prior, a port driver for Shippers Transport in Oakland.

While the scheme is a boon for port trucking companies like Shippers Transport, a subsidiary of the giant SSA Marine (half-owned by Goldman Sachs), it’s drawing the attention of the Occupy movement and the Department of Labor.

“These (practices) have astronomical impacts on local governments, state governments and federal government and also hurts good, legitimate businesses that are playing by the rules and for employees that are being ripped off,” said Hilda Solis, the head of the US Department of Labor.

Last year the agency collected more than $5 million for nearly 8,000 misclassified workers, but with 300 new investigators on staff the Department of Labor will be looking more closely at misclassification schemes.

On December 12th the Occupy movement is organizing a shutdown of the West Coast ports while the Occupy protesters in New York take their case directly to Goldman Sachs on the same day (Goldman Sachs – half-owner of SSA Marine – has its own checkered history with paying taxes. It’s easy to understand why the Occupy folks are targeting the company in the coordination with the port shut down.)

The CBS Early Show segment is only the latest in a series of investigative news pieces on the port trucking industry generally and on Shippers Transport in particular.

Salon.com interviewed Leonardo Mejia, a truck driver for Shippers Transport who works out of Long Beach. “Mejia is part of the shadow economy, though not in the sense that that term is commonly understood: as an autonomous netherworld entirely off the books and underground, invisible to the taxman and mainstream society. Mejia’s shadow economy is something a little different; purposefully created from the top down, its growth driven by employers increasingly eager to shed costly, legally mandated commitments to their employees.”

New laws will help port truck drivers and other employees who are purposely misclassified by their employers, but enforcement of new and existing laws is key. Without strict enforcement from government agencies an imbalance of power exists which keeps truck drivers under the thumb of the giant trucking companies like Shippers Transport.

“There’s an imbalance of power in the market which enables the big shippers to control the cost of shipping,” According to Dr. David Bensman, a professor at Rutgers University and author of “The Big Rig”, a report about misclassification in the port trucking industry. “And as long as you have that imbalance of market power you are going to have intense competition and substandard industry practices.”

Investigative Reporter Uncovers How Shipping Industry Endangers Lives

Posted by Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports on November 1st, 2011

Exposed: Seattle Port Shipping Industry Endangers Lives
NOVEMBER 1, 2011

So let’s say you work in one of America’s most dangerous industries, like trucking at the ports. You see faulty chassis, overweight containers, unlabeled containers full of hazardous chemicals, et cetera.

But what if industry schemes prevent professional drivers from blowing the whistle on safety violations even when it’s their job to safely command 80,000 pounds of truck and cargo?  For starters, you could leak it to the press.

Seattle’s King TV 5 News sent investigative reporter Chris Ingalls to the docks to find out more.

Click here to watch the King TV 5 investigative report.

Help Pass the Clean Ports Act of 2011

Posted by on February 17th, 2011

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Barack Obama once famously said change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington. So over this last week, environmentalists, port-area residents, truck drivers, labor and public health advocates from coast-to-coast brought their demand for justice at America's port communities to Capitol Hill.

Will you support them by adding your voice to theirs?
Giant multi-national corporations like Target and Maersk are making record profits from global trade, but lobbyists for the polluting trucking corporations are trying to unravel our efforts in court.

That's why 50 co-sponsors and Rep. Jerrold Nadler re-introduced the Clean Ports Act (H.R. 572) -- legislation that would protect bold policies like the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program that enable massive green job creation, and curb harmful diesel-truck pollution that 87 million Americans choke on every day – in Congress last week.

The New York Democrat put industry polluters on notice, charging “it is indefensible that ports are being challenged from enforcing clean truck programs to replace highly polluting and outmoded diesel trucks.”

Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope also championed the legislation: “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. 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.”

To stand with Nadler and the Sierra Club, port truck drivers and environmentalists, public health, community and workers’ rights advocates from across America took to Capitol Hill last week to educate their Members of Congress on the importance of the Clean Ports Act.  Check out what some of these advocates are saying in support of the Clean Ports Act of 2011.

With a divided Congress, passing this critical legislation won’t be easy.  That’s why we need you to add your voice, and to forward this to your friends, co-workers, neighbors and families to help to keep up the pressure.

Victory for clean air & good jobs in port cities nationwide!

Posted by Aditi Vaidya on August 30th, 2010

Great news for the fight for good jobs and clean air at the Port of Oakland!

What happened? Last Thursday, a district court judge in California ruled in favor of the Los Angeles Clean Truck program.  This removes the legal hurdles keeping the Port of Los Angeles from enforcing all provisions of one of the most effective diesel reduction programs in the country! 

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the author of the Clean Ports Act of 2010, called the ruling a "very welcome development" in the "longstanding efforts to modernize the nation's truck fleets and reduce diesel pollution. Now we must pass the Clean Ports Act in order to bring federal law in line with the current realities of our ports and the needs of U.S. truck drivers, and to ensure that future legal challenges do not impede environmental progress." 

You can help us bring Los Angeles' pioneering program home to Oakland and to other port communities across America by signing the petition in support of the Clean Ports Act of 2010.  For more information, check out the coverage in the LA Times

$96 for 50 hours of work?

Posted by Aditi Vaidya on July 6th, 2010

You might have read that EBASE and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports took our fight to fix the broken port trucking system all the way to Washington, DC this past spring. Thanks to your support, members of Congress turned up the heat on the industry.

Click here to watch a new video with highlights from the historic hearing and to take action to end “sweatshops on wheels.” At minute 1:45, learn how LA truck driver Jose Covarrubias earned just $96 for 50 hours of work!

At the hearing, Congressmembers Oberstar (MN) and DeFazio (OR) not only dared to ask tough questions of the trucking industry, but also promised to further investigate the trucking industry scams that are threatening the livelihoods of port truck drivers.

As coalition members testified, the industry relies on outdated federal laws to justify passing the cost of cleaning up the air onto low-income truck drivers and taxpayers while continuing the vicious cycle of working poverty at our nation’s ports.

Low-income truck drivers and taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for the industry’s responsibility to clean the air we all breathe – don’t you agree?

Please take action and let Reps. Oberstar and DeFazio know that the fight has just begun!

Washington, D.C., or bust: Good jobs, clean air in the balance

Posted by Nikki Fortunato Bas on April 26th, 2010

Originally posted on Oaklandseen.com

On May 5, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy – in partnership with allies from Seattle to Newark, N.J. – will make our congressional debut. We’re excited to be taking the fight for good jobs and clean air to our nation’s capital.

EBASE and a “blue-green-brown” coalition are fighting to reform the broken port trucking system. It impoverishes the truck drivers who transport the food and supplies you and I use every day. And it exposes both drivers and local residents to toxic diesel pollution.

I’ve met with truck drivers and seen first-hand some of the injustices they endure. But don’t take my word for it. As Ablelom, an Oakland driver, told the New York Times last fall: “This is straight-out slavery, only modern. The companies tell you to keep your mouth shut, take what they give you, and don’t say anything because if you say anything there’s always another guy who can do it.”

Fixing this broken system is key to building healthy communities and creating an economy where everyone earns enough to live with dignity.

Why Washington, D.C.?

We came close to passing a comprehensive clean truck policy at the Port of Oakland last year, but the global shipping industry joined together to block our progress on the road to justice. They simply don’t want to pay their fair share to fix the system. They profit off the status quo, in which low-wage drivers bear the enormous costs of greening the port’s truck fleet, and low-income communities of color pay with their health.

To remove the industry’s roadblock, EBASE is “going national” with this journey to Washington, D.C. As a member of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, we’ll be making the case for putting an end to “sweatshops on wheels” before the Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

If you agree that global corporations should not profit at the expense of Oakland’s low-income communities of color, I invite you to learn more and also consider helping us get to Washington. Together, we can make our rallying cry of “good jobs, clean air” a reality.

Tribute to Jaime Ortiz, 1977-2010

Posted by Nikki Bas on February 26th, 2010

We lost a beloved colleague and friend when Jaime Ortiz, Teamster organizer working on the Campaign for Clean and Safe Ports, died in a tragic automobile accident on Wednesday, February 10th.  The proud son of two Teamsters (members of Local 601 in Stockton, California), he was 32 years old and, for the past three years, has dedicated his life to organizing truck drivers at the Port of Oakland.  

An inspiration to us all, he touched all of our lives deeply and will be sorely missed by friends and family.  He was fiercely committed to working for justice for truck drivers at the Port of Oakland, and was deeply beloved by his family, friends, coworkers, and his family among the truck drivers.  No words can fully express our grief for our friend or our admiration of him. 

Now more than ever, we will remember Jaime's dedication to fight for the rights of port truck drivers to organize into a union and make port truck driving a family-supporting job. We will continue to fight for clean air and good jobs in his honor. 

To read tributes to Jaime, visit unions.org and modestobee.com.

A memorial fund has been set up to assist the Ortiz family. Donations can be made to:

Jaime Ortiz Memorial Fund
c/o United Labor Bank
Attn: Ricka Lucia
100 Hengenberger Road, Suite 110
Oakland, CA 94621-1447

Photos of Jaime, credit Brooke Anderson:

Photos of Jaime's Memorial Service, credit Brad Erickson:

"It's time for the free ride to
end": Industry must take responsibility to fix the broken port trucking

Posted by Aditi Vaidya on January 26th, 2010

Beginning January 1st, 2010, state environmental regulations went into effect requiring all truck drivers to meet new truck engine standards. By now, you may have seen news coverage of the crisis at the Port of Oakland and the intervention by Mayor Dellums, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Port to provide independent truck drivers with a little more time and funding to comply with the state regulations to clean up port trucks. These well-intentioned efforts demonstrate compassion for port truck drivers, as hundreds (if not a thousand) are likely to be out of work if they cannot afford to upgrade their trucks. 

Unfortunately, a vast majority of drivers still will not be able to afford to purchase or maintain retrofits. We believe that while some use of government funds may be necessary to help cross the bridge to a cleaner port trucking system, in the long run the industry that profits from the goods movement must be made to pay the price to move those goods in an environmentally sustainable manner.  The industry cannot continue to expect taxpayers to bail them out. For more information and analysis, read our coalition's op-ed that recently ran in the Oakland Tribune.

Meanwhile, EBASE has been active in supporting hundreds of truck drivers displaced by the industry's refusal to pay for clean trucks. EBASE hired three displaced truck drivers to conduct eight weeks of outreach to fellow drivers.

On January 9th, EBASE partnered with the Workforce Collaborative, the ATLAS Program, the Alameda Labor Council, and the Teamsters to hold a jobs and resource fair. Around 100 drivers and their families attended the fair to enroll in clean diesel and hybrid auto mechanic job training programs at our community colleges and receive critical information about food programs, health care, and tax/financial assistance. Watch coverage of the job fair.

In order to create a sustainable port trucking system - where drivers are not forced to choose between paying for a clean truck or being out of work - the companies that use our ports must be responsible corporate citizens.  It’s time to end the free ride for the likes of Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot and J.C. Penney’s, along with the trucking companies they contract with. 

That’s why EBASE and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports are pushing Congress to update outmoded federal laws governing port trucking.  Ports need the clear authority to implement 21st century policies that will protect the environment; ensure that port truck drivers earn a living wage in which they can support their families; and paves the way for future, good, green growth jobs. 

Oakland Tribune: Port of Oakland must get serious about cleaning the air

Posted by Elizabeth on April 15th, 2009

Read the Oakland Tribune's editorial calling for a change at the Port.  


Pictures from the Port Asthma Screening

Posted by Elizabeth Henry on March 3rd, 2009

I love these pictures from our asthma screening last month.  On Tuesday, February 10th, more than a hundred people gathered to participate in an Asthma Screening and Education Fair for West Oakland residents and Port truck drivers, and to send a strong message that it’s time for the Port of Oakland to adopt a comprehensive Clean Trucks Program.

The tents for the screening and education tables were set up on the Port's doorstep. 

Chinese Mason, a West Oakland resident, discusses the effects of asthma on her friends and family. 

Sandra Witt, director of the Community Assessment Planning & Education (CAPE) program at the Alameda County Public Health Department, affirms that the Port of Oakland's activities have a $153 million a year price tag for the cost of premature death, asthma, increased cancer risk, and other diseases.

The Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice closed the event with a prayer. 

Over 150 Oakland Truckers and Residents Rallied to Fix the Broken Port Trucking System

Posted by EBASE on June 27th, 2007
Trucker Rangit Singh places a placard on his big rig during a protest June 27 at Oakland's Middle Harbor Park. This photo was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Click here to see the article.

Unrest at the Port of Oakland is growing as more than one hundred and fifty truckers and community members rallied against what they called, “Sweatshops on Wheels.” Protesters urged the Port of Oakland to establish oversight over the trucking industry to improve working conditions for drivers and curtail the choking diesel pollution which has left one in five West Oakland children with asthma.

The rally was organized by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports and took place at the Port’s recently created Middle Harbor Shoreline Park which has mostly gone unused. The event brought life to the dead area with trucks jamming the parking lots, honking, playing music, and waving signs that read, “Driving for the American Dream.”

Speakers included West Oakland Environmental Indicators  Co-Chair Margaret Gordon who drew heavy applause when she boomed, “Drivers and community have a right to clean air. We have a right to good jobs that don’t leave us in poverty. And we have a right not to be abused! ”

Several drivers, giving only their first names for fear that employers would seek retaliation, spoke emotionally about the need to improve conditions so that they could provide more for their families. They complained about not being paid to wait in long lines  ( an average of 2.5 hours to pick up a single load ) , not having health insurance, and that after expenses, their families were left in poverty.

“I have three children that I cannot properly support because we are underpaid. We need a practical solution, and for us, that means having a union that will allow us to seek a better life.” – Nagash, Port Trucker.

Port Commissioner  David Kramer lent his support and vowed to take the concerns of the drivers and community to his fellow Board members, saying “Without truck drivers, the Port can’t operate – and that’s why the Port is listening - you are the wheels that make our economic engine go.”

Chuck Mack, International Vice-President of the Teamsters, ended the program drawing the connection between the pollution problems and the problems of the drivers.

Unlike union drivers, port truckers are independent contractors living in poverty. They do not have the right to negotiate as a group for higher rates and are often pitted against each other, competing to win loads for lower and lower rates. This has left the vast majority without the ability to buy or maintain cleaner emission trucks. So, their trucks tend to be older, more polluting models that belch diesel, impacting both drivers and West Oakland alike.

“We can’t fix the pollution unless we fix the conditions for drivers, and vice-versa.” Mack said, “Whether you are a trucker or a West Oakland community member, everyone should have a good job that allows them to obtain the American Dream.”

The Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports is a broad coalition of environmental, labor, faith, community, and business organizations promoting sustainable economic development at the Port of Oakland and other West Coast Ports. We are working to clean up the port trucking industry, reduce environmentally harmful port emissions, stimulate greater economic opportunities for Oakland’s residents, and establish accountability to the Port’s surrounding communities. Members of the Oakland Coalition include: Oakland ACORN, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, the Pacific Institute, the Teamsters Union, the Alameda County Central Labor Council, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Workforce Collaborative, Urban Habitat, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Oakland Black Caucus.

For more information, contact Doug Bloch at 510-893-1930, ext. 24 or doug.bloch[at]changetowin.org.


1814 Franklin Street • Suite 325 • Oakland, CA 94612 • p. 510.893.7106 • f. 510.893.7010