In the Fast Lane: Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports Campaign Activity at the port of Oakland Accelerates to a Speedy Pace

March 21, 2008 -- East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable...

By Aditi Vaidya, EBASE Port Program Director

What a busy week it was for the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports!  On Monday, March 17th, the Coalition organized a large March and Truck Caravan to the Port of Oakland for Clean Air and Good Jobs.  The following day, the Oakland Port Commission took the first step in initiating a Comprehensive Truck Management Program.  The California Air Resources Board issued a preliminary report on the devastating impacts diesel air pollution is having on the health of West Oakland residents.  And on Thursday, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission made history as the first port in the country to take action to significantly reduce diesel pollution while making Port truck driving jobs living wage jobs.

Hundreds Rally in Oakland for Clean Air and Good Jobs

On St. Patrick’s Day, environmentalists, Oakland residents, clergy leaders and Port truck drivers gathered at a rally at Oakland City Hall to call for the greening of the Port of Oakland and for good jobs and employment opportunities for Oakland residents.  A contingent including a driver, a representative from the Alameda County Labor Council and ACORN community activists paid a visit to Mayor Ron Dellums’ office and delivered a poster-size letter, signed by hundreds of Oakland residents, thanking Mayor Dellums for his “vision of a green Port that provides good jobs for our community.” They offered the assistance of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports in getting a comprehensive Clean Trucks Program adopted by the Port. 

Outside City Hall, as the crowd grew to several hundred people, Manuel Rivas explained how difficult it is raising three children as a single father on Port truck driver wages.  “I am 55 years old, but I have no retirement, no medical insurance for my children.  After expenses like fuel, tires, registration, road tax and repairs on my 1989 truck, I take home about $24,000 a year,” said Rivas.  “We all want clean air, but the drivers cannot afford it on our low wages.”

As the demonstrators headed down Broadway, they were met by a caravan of semi-trucks festooned with posters that read “End Sweatshops on Wheels” and “Driving for the American Dream” that escorted them to the Port of Oakland. 

Port Commissioners Margaret Gordon and Victor Uno met the marchers outside the Port office where they received a giant-sized letter signed by those who participated in the demonstration.  In the letter, Coalition members called upon the Port to join in creating a world class city with a healthy environment and a stable market in which trucking businesses, drivers and local residents prosper by sharing the benefits of the global economy we help make possible by adopting a Clean Trucks Program that would:

  • Make the profitable industry responsible for the cost of clean air;
  • End the “sweatshop on wheels” system;
  • Create a strong local jobs program; and
  • Grant “independent” drivers employee status giving them the right to join a union.

Vowing their support for the Clean Trucks Program, Commissioners Gordon and Uno promised to deliver the message to their fellow Commissioners when they took up the issue of passing a Truck Management Program during the Port Commission meeting the following day.

A special thanks to the Alameda Labor Council, ACORN, the Teamsters Union and the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy for their work in making the event such a great success!

Oakland Port Takes First Step toward a Truck Management Program

The day after the march, Port Commissioners began the process of instituting a new trucking model to reduce diesel emissions.  In an effort to achieve an 85% reduction in health risk from its operations by 2020, the Board voted unanimously to levy fees on containers passing through the Port.  The fees are expected to generate $520 million and will be used to mitigate air pollution by retrofitting and replacing dirty trucks.  The Commission directed Port staff to hire a consultant to conduct an Economic Impact Study on making drivers employees of the trucking companies and to report back to the Board on the next steps to phase in the Comprehensive Truck Management Program by the end of June. 

The Commission, however, failed to include any language that addresses how to institute an effective local hire program.  Inclusion of a strong local hire program continues to be a top priority of the Coalition.

In a letter to Mayor Dellums, the National Retail Federation, which includes Gap Inc., Levi Strauss, J.C. Penny and Target, stated its opposition to the plan saying the proposals impose an unfair burden on those moving goods by container.  During the Port Commission meeting, trucking company representatives voiced their opposition to container fees and making drivers employees.  Several Coalition members testified that any program intended to reduce air pollution will fail if low-paid drivers are forced to bear the burden of the cost of truck replacement and upgrades and that the only way to succeed is to make the drivers employees and to make the industry pay for cleaning the air.

Historic Victory at Los Angeles Harbor

‘High Road to Clean Air’ Policy Expected to Pave Way for Green Growth

On Thursday, March 20th, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission voted unanimously to approve a strong and sustainable diesel emissions reduction plan that requires the trucking industry to buy and maintain a clean-technology fleet and to employ truck drivers who currently operate as “independent contractors.”

“It’s a great day.  In a few months from now, your children will begin to breathe easier, and so will your grandchildren,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who led the effort, told a cheering crowd of more that 300 truck drivers, local residents, environmentalists and allies who has gathered for the Harbor Commission vote. 

“Today, Los Angeles has said enough is enough,” added Villaraigosa.  “When 1,200 lives are cut short every year by a barrage of diseases, ranging from emphysema to cancer of the mouth, we have a moral obligation to act fast.”

Critical to the Port of LA’s long-term success is the provision that removes the burden for owning and operating trucks from underpaid port drivers who lack the stability or capital to purchase and maintain a new clean-technology fleet.  The LA fleet amounts to 16,800 trucks. 

“The existing system is a scam,” Los Angeles Harbor Commission President David Freeman said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.  “It’s a scheme by shipping companies to avoid responsibilities of an employer, and we’re calling a halt to it.”

In requiring trucking companies to act as employers to assume full responsibility for low-emission cargo vehicles, the LA program is viewed by leading independent economists as a sweeping policy that will reduce pollution by 80 percent in five years – with built-in benefits to increase operational efficiency, improve port security, and stabilize the workforce.

 “LA’s plan makes me feel proud to be a port truck driver again,” said Oswaldo Hernandez, a 14-year veteran truck driver. “I work so many hours to make sure the cargo gets to the warehouses and the stores. But the more miles I drive, the more poison my old rig puts in the air. I can’t wait to have a good job driving a clean truck.”

Both LA and the Port of Long Beach recently approved a progressive five-year ban on dirty trucks.  But Long Beach failed to adopt the employee provision leaving the burden of buying and maintaining the new $100,000 trucks needed to meet the new environmental standards on the back of the low-income drivers.

“We cannot expect that these hard working truckers with the minimum pay they receive should be responsible for maintaining their trucks and/or drive clean trucks,” said Councilwoman Janice Hahn in testifying in support of the program.”

 “However, none of us can argue that we must begin to mandate the use of clean trucks in and around our ports.  Our lives depend on it,” said Hahn.  “Shame on those who would say there is no relationship between labor and clean air.”

The LA Harbor action paves the way for the Port of Oakland to follow suit.  There is no excuse why Oakland cannot take similar action.

Click here to read the Los Angeles Times Article about the LA Harbor Vote

Click here to read the Long Beach Press-Telegram Op/Ed piece by Geraldine Knatz, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director

West Oakland Residents Face Elevated Cancer Risk

On Wednesday, March 19th, the California Air Resources Board presented preliminary findings of a Health Risk Assessment study of West Oakland.  The report found that West Oakland residents are about 2 ½ times more likely to get cancer than other people living in the Bay Area.  The elevated potential risk levels are primarily due to on-road trucks.  In addition, the study found 18 potential premature deaths annually occurring among people 30 years and older, 290 asthma attacks, 2,600 days of work lost and 15,000 “minor restricted activity episodes.”

“We have extensive data on the disproportionate burden of disease in West Oakland,” said Dr. Anthony Iton, director of the Alameda County Public Health Department.  “We hope that this health risk assessment will be helpful in quantifying the responsibility of the port to the adverse health outcomes in West Oakland.”

In the Coming Months…

We are now at a critical juncture in our fight for clean air and good jobs in Oakland.  As the Port undertakes the task of trying to fix the broken Port truck driving system that is causing serious environmental, health and workplace problems, it is sure to meet with heavy resistance from a powerful industry set on maintaining the status quo that enables it to make huge profits at the expense of the people who live and work in Oakland.  We must re-double our efforts to ensure that the Port does not balk in the face of such opposition and shirk its responsibility of making the Port a public entity that provides healthy and sustainable economic opportunity.  In the coming months, we will be calling upon the Oakland community to participate in various Coalition activities.  Please join us in our march toward victory!