The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) won two major policy victories in 2008 that will expand opportunity and improve job standards for workers, while also combating port-related pollution. LAANE also won a legal battle that paved the way for the implementation of a living wage law for 3,500 hotel workers.
On October 1, the nation’s first Clean Trucks Program was launched at the Port of Los Angeles, culminating an epic battle to bring cleaner air and better jobs to the region’s largest industry. The dramatic inauguration of one of the nation’s most far-reaching environmental cleanups follows a two-year effort by LAANE and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, a broad-based alliance that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Teamsters and nearly 40 other organizations. The campaign has met with fierce opposition from the trucking industry as well as major shipping interests, such as Wal-Mart, that have long profited from a system that places the entire burden of buying and maintaining trucks on poor, largely immigrant drivers.
The Los Angeles Clean Trucks Program shifts the responsibility for ownership and upkeep of clean-burning vehicles to the trucking companies, and requires that drivers become employees of these companies rather than remain misclassified as independent contractors, a move that will significantly raise job standards and ensure basic workplace protections. To ensure that workers’ rights are protected, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is carrying out an organizing drive.
Beyond the benefits to 16,000 drivers and the communities that have suffered from polluted air, the Clean Trucks Program is a watershed accomplishment for the burgeoning blue-green alliance. Often on opposite sides of public policy debates, labor advocates and environmentalists created and sustained a powerful partnership that could serve as a model for a good jobs/green growth movement in cities across the nation.
The program faces at least three significant challenges in 2009. The policy adopted by the Port of Long Beach maintains the current failed system in which drivers are held responsible for the purchase, maintenance and repair of the trucks. Indeed, many drivers will be forced into debt to replace their trucks with new vehicles that meet standards. Both ports are the target of action by the Bush Federal Maritime Commission which has prevented collection of container fees to finance replacement of trucks. LAANE and its allies are engaged in an advocacy plan to ensure that the Obama administration fills vacancies on the commission with individuals who support the goals of the Clean Trucks Program. Finally, the FMC and the trucking industry have initiated separate lawsuits against the two ports over the Clean Trucks Programs. While industry attempts to have the programs enjoined have so far failed, the suits are progressing and LAANE will assist the ports in the defense of the programs.
The Los Angeles City Council voted in April to approve a landmark Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) policy to ensure that low income workers and their communities benefit from the construction jobs created by city redevelopment projects.
The “Construction Careers and Project Stabilization Policy” was crafted by the CRA in collaboration with LAANE and the L.A. County Federation of Labor with support from building trades unions and African American community leaders. The policy will require most CRA-funded projects to hire low-income residents from the communities in which the project is being built. The policy also ensures that major new CRA developments will be covered by project labor agreements, which guarantee that the jobs are quality union jobs. Over the next five years, it is expected to result in over 5,000 new middle class jobs for Los Angeles residents and dramatically increase the number of African Americans working in the construction industry. In addition, the policy sets thresholds for training and hiring workers with significant obstacles to employment.
The CRA policy is the first of its kind in the country and establishes a compelling national model for other redevelopment agencies as well as for other L.A. city agencies and departments.
LAANE has begun a campaign to win a similar policy for the multiple construction projects that are in the pipeline for the Port of Los Angeles as part of a larger strategy that sets environmental standards for all Port development.
Living Wages for Hotel Workers
Last April, the California Supreme Court cleared the way for a living wage law for 3,500 Los Angeles airport hotel workers to take effect. The decision came more than a year after the Los Angeles City Council enacted the wage law, which was immediately challenged by hotels and other business interests.
In 2006, LAANE and a coalition of community, labor and religious groups joined with Los Angeles City Councilmembers Janice Hahn and Bill Rosendahl in leading the effort to pass the living wage law. The policy initiative was part of a larger campaign to transform conditions near LAX, where one in four residents live below the federal poverty line. The legislation also had strong support from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Business opposition, however, has delayed implementation of the law, costing workers millions of dollars. According to a LAANE study, Century Boulevard hotel workers lost approximately $4.6 million in unpaid living wages. During the lengthy legal battles, involving a series of lawsuits and appeals, five hotels agreed to recognize the union chosen by a majority of employees, a move that has paved the way for increasing standards and winning family health benefits at those hotels.
“Workers, students, and religious leaders stood together during this historic fight to end the poverty generated by Los Angeles’ airport hotels,” said Vivian Rothstein, deputy director of LAANE. “Some of the hotels have recognized that it is better to work together to revitalize the local tourism industry and upgrade jobs. Other hotels are still learning.”
The Coalition for a New Century, which includes prominent religious, education and civic leaders, is not only seeking improved conditions for Century Boulevard hotel workers, but also city investment in the long-neglected LAX tourism industry and a central role for adjacent communities affected by problems of poverty, crime and overcrowding in the revitalization of the area.