Thursday, 13 May 2010

Blue Truck, Green Truck

An American Congressional Sub-Committee heard testimony this month about the Clean Trucks Programs at the LA and Long Beach ports.

These schemes were introduced in October 2008 to replace large numbers of old trucks with newer vehicles with lower emissions.  A `carrot and stick` approach was adopted combining strict environmental standards with subsidies to help buy new trucks.

The LA port had planned a `concession` system requiring trucking firms to hire drivers as employees, rather than treating them as nominally independent sub-contractors, and take responsibility for maintaining trucks. This went `on hold` due to a preliminary  injunction sought by the American Trucking Association. Their lawsuit against the port authority in this matter has been heard and a decision is pending.

The Sub-Committee heard from representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council that the two ports generated "more smog-forming pollution and particle-forming nitrogen oxides than all 6 million cars in the region".

The NRDC points out that communities around the ports have a 60% higher risk of cancer from air pollution and higher asthma rates than those experienced elsewhere in the same region. They reject the trucking industry`s argument that the ports have no authority to address environmental and safety concerns.

Owner-driver Jose Covarrubias described life as an `independent` contractor, which sounds similar to the arrangement experienced by some self-employed couriers in the UK. "No matter what port truck driver I talk to, the story is the same. The companies just call us independent contractors so we can pay for everything and so that they can avoid paying their taxes."

The Committee also heard from trade unionists and industry representatives.

On the same day, the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, an event sponsored by the Blue Green Alliance* heard from truck driver Porfirio Diaz concerning the struggle he and his fellow drivers are waging for union rights and clean air.

Diaz has spent 25 years transporting cargo containers to and from the port at Oakland, California. Initially he regarded it as a good job with a unionised employer offering good terms. Then the company decided to make the previously directly-employed drivers into `independents` paid by the load and with no union or health and welfare benefits.

In practise, this means he is no longer paid whilst waiting to pick up a container and has to cover his own fuel and other costs, sometimes working a 70 hour week - hardly a good thing for a man driving a heavy vehicle ! His son suffers from asthma which he believes comes from smog generated by trucks idling in the port - I assume he lives nearby - and the family home was repossessed when he fell behind with his mortgage payments.

With help from the labour and environmental movements, he and his fellow-drivers are campaigning for legislation to win back the benefits they lost and force the comapnies to reduce port pollution.


This posting draws heavily on articles by Tim Wheeler and Marilyn Bechtel which appeared in the American  People`s World newspaper. The research and reporting is pretty much all theirs and my own contribution is really just in writing a new and more compact article based on their work, and in Anglicizing it a little to avoid confusion (Americans use the word `expenses` where we would say `costs`, whereas `expenses` to me means money refunded to by an employer to an employee who has incurred expenditure as part of his/her work, e.g. to pay for accomodation whilst working away from home.).

I don`t have much information on Tim Wheeler, But I do know he wrote some excellent articles on health and safety matters recently, particularly with reference to the recent US mining disaster.

Marlilyn Bechtel is a former professional musician who has been with the PW since the `80s and is active in the peace movement.


*For further reading on the BGA, see my article `John Muir`s Blue Sierra`, this blog, 12 December 2009.

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