Clean Air Efforts Move to Capitol Hill; Partnership Affiliates Asked to Help the Ports Campaign Change the Law

September 30, 2009 -- East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable...

by Aditi Vaidya, EBASE Port Program Director

The stakes are getting high in the fight for good jobs and clean air, and the movement is headed to Washington, DC.

Partnership for Working Families affiliated organizations in port cites across the country like East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), Puget Sound Sage and Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE) have joined with the Teamsters, Change to Win and a coalition of environmental, clergy and community organizations in making great strides to transform a low-road port trucking industry that has fueled poverty jobs and a growing environmental crisis.   But our success is now under attack by a powerful industry polluters’ lobby.

The Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports secured a major victory last year when the Port of Los Angeles, home to 16,000 port drivers who average $10 an hour, launched a Clean Trucks Program that set labor and environmental standards for trucking companies that haul goods for multinational retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. The program requires capitalized companies, rather than individual, underpaid drivers, to invest in clean trucks – thus ending their practice of misclassifying these workers as independent contractors which makes them ineligible for unionization. 

Other ports were preparing to replicate the model.  In less than a year, 2,000 of the dirtiest diesel rigs were banned, 5,000 clean and alternative fuel vehicles were put into service, and companies large and small were hiring drivers as employees years ahead of schedule. But the American Trucking Association filed a lawsuit against both Southern California ports. After losing before the district court, a 9th Circuit appeals panel issued a ruling leading to a temporary injunction blocking key elements of the program – including the labor standards –  pending trial in December 2009. 

The Port of Los Angeles joined us to begin educating Congress about the need to update our 30 year old transportation laws, so emissions reduction achievements don’t stall or reverse – and workers behind the wheel will not be forced to foot the bill for cleaner commerce, driving them into debt or bankruptcy. 

And in another victory, at the urging of residents and our dynamic Oakland blue-green alliance, port officials approved a resolution calling on Congress to modernize transportation policy so there will be no doubt that ports can set and enforce trucking industry standards to make goods movement sustainable for local communities and workers. 

The Port of Authority of New York & New Jersey followed suit, and sent letters to Congressional representatives urging them to update the law so ports have the tools to enact the environmental and labor standards they need to clean up the broken port trucking industry.

“I’m pleased that people living and working in port communities across the country are raising their voices to change the port trucking system,” said Aditi Vaidya, Port Program Director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.   “We must now take our fight to Congress in order to hold the highly polluting industry accountable.”

Partnership affiliates in districts represented by lawmakers on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee can help with this effort. There are three ways that your organization can help:

  • Sign-on to a letter we will be sending to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair, Rep. James L. Oberstar, in support of federal legislation to amend the law the industry is using to fight the Clean Trucks Program
  • Schedule a meeting with your representative to urge them to support legislation (for Congressional targets, contact John Goldstein of the Partnership at jgoldstein@communitybenefits.org)
  • Participate in online activism that will be launched in September

Your efforts will help thousands of drivers like Rafael Rivera, who was profiled in the Long Beach Press-Telegram after he brought home a check for just $138 because his company is forcing all the costs of a clean truck onto him.

“Between payments for the new truck, insurance, fuel, taxes and the lack of work, I’m barely making it,” he said. “I’m working 18 hours a day, six days a week, and I still can’t afford my bills. I just want to work like any regular person, pay my bills on time and go home to my family at night.”

Read the full article here.