Opinion Op-Ed

To keep L.A. and Long Beach's ports trucking

It takes 10,000 professional truck drivers to move all the goods that come into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And it's no wonder. Our two ports handle 40% of all goods imported to the United States.

A lot of the jobs generated by the ports, including those of unionized longshoremen and railroad workers, pay good wages that contribute to a solid middle class in the region. But many of the truck drivers who serve the ports find themselves stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder because of the way their employers classify and exploit them.

These mostly immigrant drivers are trapped in a largely unregulated system in which many are designated independent contractors by their employers, who then deduct all kinds of expenses from the fees they pay the drivers. Drivers see their checks shrink because of deductions for such things as the cost of fuel, truck maintenance and insurance. Drivers have told me that, as a consequence of all the deductions, their first 30 to 40 hours of work each week go to paying for the trucks they drive. Only after that are they earning money for their families.

Last week, some of the port drivers called a one-day strike to protest their working conditions. We should support them, because we all have a stake in their success.

As a Los Angeles city councilwoman for 10 years, I fought hard to help develop and improve the ports. One success was instituting an innovative Clean Truck Program, which has reduced toxic diesel pollution by an estimated 80% in just a few short years. Running cleaner trucks has not only provided public health benefits, it has brought together groups that are often at odds, including environmental justice advocates, businesses and labor unions.

But the powerful shipping and trucking industries undermined one advance we were poised to make at the ports: They successfully sued to strip out fair labor provisions that would have prevented them from continuing to call drivers independent contractors, and would have held the companies responsible for bringing trucks up to new standards. Without that provision, drivers are often the ones who bear the costs for cleaning up the air.

Fortunately, over the last year, the U.S. Department of Labor and the California labor commissioner have devoted resources to investigating the situation, and they have found that some trucking companies routinely violate laws governing hours and wages at both the federal and state levels by classifying truckers as contractors rather than employees.

In fact, each case brought so far has been decided in favor of the drivers. To date, more than 400 port drivers have filed wage and hour claims with the California Labor Commission, worth an estimated $50 million in back pay and damages. Ultimately, port drivers could be owed nearly $1 billion in back pay.

Can you imagine the positive effect on the local economy and housing markets from an infusion of $1 billion in new consumer spending that requires absolutely no new taxes or government spending?

Last year, port drivers won a major victory when drivers at a prominent global trucking company — Toll Group — voted to affiliate themselves with the Teamsters and successfully negotiated an excellent union contract. In addition to winning affordable health insurance, a pension and overtime, drivers won a $6-an-hour raise, something unprecedented in today's economy.

And consumers don't need to worry that the improvements for truckers will raise prices in stores: Providing a living wage for port drivers can be done for a fraction of a penny on the price of a new pair of sneakers.

The U.S. economy needs to be rebuilt from the middle out in a way that helps working people. As we enter the holiday season, I hope you will remember the port truck driver who transported the gifts you purchase for your loved ones. Their success in creating a fairer and more just economy will benefit all of us.

Janice Hahn is the representative for California's 44th Congressional District, which includes the Port of Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Garcetti's ambitious goal for L.A.'s water supply
    Garcetti's ambitious goal for L.A.'s water supply

    Spurred by the drought, but planning for long-term sustainability, Mayor Eric Garcetti has set an ambitious and important goal for Los Angeles: to reduce the amount of water it purchases by 50% in 10 years. That's a decade sooner than water managers had anticipated, and it's a big change for...

  • No winners in this MTA train wreck
    No winners in this MTA train wreck

    It's hard to find winners in the meltdown that occurred last week at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. A Japanese rail car manufacturing company trying to build a plant in Palmdale announced it was tired of fighting a union-supported environmental challenge and instead would build...

  • L.A. City Council should take time to get minimum wage hike right
    L.A. City Council should take time to get minimum wage hike right

    Several Los Angeles City Council members have requested further study of how Mayor Eric Garcetti's $13.25-an-hour minimum wage proposal — and the $15.25 alternative that is also being considered — would affect the local economy, particularly small businesses and nonprofits. The...

  • Nepotism is no way to staff a fire department
    Nepotism is no way to staff a fire department

    It's a fact of life: Many kids want to be firefighters when they grow up. Some hold fast to that desire into their early adult years, some percentage of those actually follow through by applying and taking the test, and a fortunate few actually get hired into fire departments. And because...

  • Obama didn't go far enough: The San Gabriel Mountains need more protections
    Obama didn't go far enough: The San Gabriel Mountains need more protections

    The environmentalists and other activists who had advocated for protecting the San Gabriel Mountains were shocked this month when President Obama created a national monument that was significantly smaller than they had expected and that excluded heavily used areas of the forest north of Los...

  • The legacy of County Fed leader Maria Elena Durazo
    The legacy of County Fed leader Maria Elena Durazo

    Like her or loathe her, there can be little doubt that Maria Elena Durazo has become one of the most powerful figures in Los Angeles politics and that she has lifted the plight of low-wage workers into the public consciousness. Durazo announced Wednesday that she is leaving her powerful...

  • Is fake grass good for Los Angeles during the drought?
    Is fake grass good for Los Angeles during the drought?

    In an effort to convince Angelenos to rip out their water-hogging lawns, the Department of Water and Power has offered one of the most generous grass-removal incentives in the state -- $3 per square foot of lawn replaced by a low-water landscape. The new yard can include drought-tolerant...

  • Why L.A. taxpayers should pay $125 million toward an edgy new building at LACMA
    Why L.A. taxpayers should pay $125 million toward an edgy new building at LACMA

    The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is probably the last of its kind to be built in the United States — an encyclopedic museum that dares to collect art from antiquity to the present, from prehistoric Near Eastern ceramics to Richard Serra's graceful, monumental sculpture, "Band."...

Comments
Loading