Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cleaner trucks, cleaner ports

The NY Times recently ran an article titled "Clearing the Air at American Ports" about an alliance between union members and environmental groups that aims to reduce port emissions by requiring the trucking companies that operate at ports to hire truckers as employees rather than independent contractors, and as a result, pay for newer and cleaner trucks for them. A successful model of this program was started at the Port of LA, and many are now pushing for Congress to change laws at the Federal level so that it could be more easily replicated at other ports around the country. As our neighborhood is so directly linked to an operating port, it is well worthwhile to think about how a program like this might effect local workers and the air we all breathe.

Below are some quotes from the article. The full article, which contains more details about related legal battles, industry economics, and opinions on both sides, is available here.

The Teamsters union and environmental activists have formed an unlikely and outspoken alliance aiming to clear the air in American ports, and perhaps bolster the Teamsters’ ranks in the process.

The labor-green alliance is getting under the trucking industry’s skin by asserting that short-haul trucking companies working in ports — and not the truck drivers, who are often considered independent contractors — should spend the billions needed to buy new, low-emission rigs that can cost $100,000 to $175,000 each.

The Teamsters union says seaport air is so dirty largely because port truck drivers earn too little to buy trucks that would belch out fewer diesel particulates, tiny particles that contribute to cancer and asthma. Working with environmentalists, the union helped persuade the Port of Los Angeles to adopt a far-reaching plan that bars old trucks from hauling cargo from the port and puts the burden of buying new vehicles on the trucking companies, not the drivers.......

The labor-green alliance achieved a major victory in late 2008 when it helped persuade the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, a former union organizer, and the city’s port to require trucking companies to employ their drivers directly, making the companies bear the cost of buying new rigs.......

In addition to Mayor Villaraigosa, the Teamsters and environmentalists have lined up other backers, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, Mayor Corey Booker of Newark and other mayors, senators and representatives.

With a recent Rutgers study finding that port drivers earned $29,000 a year on average (after paying for their trucks, maintenance, fuel and insurance), Mr. Bloomberg said, “Truck drivers simply can’t afford to buy expensive trucks. They’re barely earning enough to make ends meet in a job that should be providing them with a solid, middle-class living."

Image above of the Port of LA from NYTimes

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