Teamsters: California port system exploits truckers

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Calling the current California port trucking system broken and dysfunctional, a coalition of environmental and labor groups on Thursday, March 29, demanded an overhaul of the system to reduce pollution and provide better working conditions for drivers.

“Twenty-five years ago, these were good jobs,” said Chuck Mack of the Teamsters during a coalition telephone news conference held Thursday morning. “Drivers belonged to the Teamsters and made decent wages. But with the advent of deregulation in the 1980s, drivers were reclassified as independent contractors. Since then, it’s been an absolute race to the bottom.”

Under the current system, drivers are paid by the load, not by the hour, and are required to maintain their own rigs and pay for gas, repairs and insurance. ” ‘Independent contractor’ has a nice ring to it, but the reality of it is, it’s really no more than exploitation,” Mack said. “Their wages are too low to support their family, and most have no health insurance. They truly are the working poor.”

Staff members at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are developing a framework for a truck-modernization program under the Clean Air Action Plan. A proposed overhaul of the trucking system has been presented to staffs of both ports for consideration under the plan as a way to deal with the pollution caused by the aging fleet.

The coalition and other groups have been invited to present their ideas, which will be weighed as the ports develop the plan, said Port of Los Angeles spokeswoman Theresa Adams-Lopez; final recommendations should be ready by the end of June. The plan already proposes swapping out the fleet serving the harbor with new, cleaner vehicles at a cost of $1.8 million.