Tag Archives: port shutdown

In Support of America’s Port Truck Drivers

As many of you may or may not know, December 12th (and early December 13th) was a large day of action for the Occupy factions on the West coast (plus Boston). Port shutdown (is it bad that I automatically went to hashtag that?) was both a move to strike back against the 1% after the recent crackdowns on Occupy camps country wide and a stand in solidarity with the Longshoreman against the EGT (a multinational grain exporter that interferes with the ILWU). The protest wanted to hit corporations where it would hurt. No imported goods from five of the West coast’s biggest ports mean no profit for them.

Although the little mainstream media that followed the story as it developed reported much lower numbers than actually showed up, the Port Shutdown achieved what it set out to do. Port of Oakland, Houston , Long Beach, Portland, Vancouver, and Denver were all affected, if not shut down for the day. Demonstrations were also held in NYC in solidarity of the protest. More highlights can be found over at OccupyWallSt.org, as well as an email from the Local 10 President.

Since I can’t directly participate in the actions that happened on #d12, I followed the livetweets and a bit of the livestream while I could. It was awesome to see the #portshutdown tweets slowly start to trickle in, and then just explode as the protests swelled. Again, my feelings were mixed on the issue. On one hand, it was amazing to see such a large number of people in a coordinated movement against a common enemy. On the other, I felt for the port workers who weren’t on board with the shut down and who might not receive pay that day (although it was good to hear that some of them were sent home with pay). I do believe that Occupy should have worked closer with the organizations that it was going to affect. Mother Jones reported this image:

That didn’t sit well with Hebert, who cut our conversation short to return to his truck for a breather. On his way, he kicked over a sign reading “truckers have rights to union wages”—a good reminder that Occupy’s success today may depend upon winning the public-relations battle for working-class sympathy.

 Which I’m sure critics of both Occupy and the Port Shutdown jumped all over. With large actions like this, I think it’s a delicate balance between going full out against the target and coordinating and communicating with the working people that are affected.
However, the following made my heart swell with pride for the Occupy movement. Although I’m still not sure how I feel about shutting down ports in order to hit the pockets of the 1%, this is something that I can get behind:

We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.

We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers. Between the five of us we have 11children and one more baby on the way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our shores for America’s stores.

We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible.

Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?

We love being behind the wheel. We are proud of the work we do to keep America’s economy moving. But we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part time at a fast-food counter. Especially when we work an average of 60 or more hours a week, away from our families.

There is so much at stake in our industry. It is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. We don’t think truck driving should be a dead-end road in America. It should be a good job with a middle-class paycheck like it used to be decades ago.

We desperately want to drive clean and safe vehicles. Rigs that do not fill our lungs with deadly toxins, or dirty the air in the communities we haul in.

Poverty and pollution are like a plague at the ports. Our economic conditions are what led to the environmental crisis.

You, the public, have paid a severe price along with us.

Why? Just like Wall Street doesn’t have to abide by rules, our industry isn’t bound to regulation. So the market is run by con artists. The companies we work for call us independent contractors, as if we were our own bosses, but they boss us around. We receive Third World wages and drive sweatshops on wheels. We cannot negotiate our rates. (Usually we are not allowed to even see them.) We are paid by the load, not by the hour. So when we sit in those long lines at the terminals, or if we are stuck in traffic, we become volunteers who basically donate our time to the trucking and shipping companies. That’s the nice way to put it. We have all heard the words “modern-day slaves” at the lunch stops.

There are no restrooms for drivers. We keep empty bottles in our cabs. Plastic bags too. We feel like dogs. An Oakland driver was recently banned from the terminal because he was spied relieving himself behind a container. Neither the port, nor the terminal operators or anyone in the industry thinks it is their responsibility to provide humane and hygienic facilities for us. It is absolutely horrible for drivers who are women, who risk infection when they try to hold it until they can find a place to go.

The companies demand we cut corners to compete. It makes our roads less safe. When we try to blow the whistle about skipped inspections, faulty equipment, or falsified logs, then we are “starved out.” That means we are either fired outright, or more likely, we never get dispatched to haul a load again.

It may be difficult to comprehend the complex issues and nature of our employment. For us too. When businesses disguise workers like us as contractors, the Department of Labor calls it misclassification. We call it illegal. Those who profit from global trade and goods movement are getting away with it because everyone is doing it. One journalist took the time to talk to us this week and she explains it very well to outsiders. We hope you will read the enclosed article “How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck Drivers.”

….

Despite our great hardships, many of us cannot — or refuse to, as some of the most well-intentioned suggest — “just quit.” First, we want to work and do not have a safety net. Many of us are tied to one-sided leases. But more importantly, why should we have to leave? Truck driving is what we do, and we do it well.

We are the skilled, specially-licensed professionals who guarantee that Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are all stocked with just-in-time delivery for consumers. Take a look at all the stuff in your house. The things you see advertised on TV. Chances are a port truck driver brought that special holiday gift to the store you bought it.

We would rather stick together and transform our industry from within. We deserve to be fairly rewarded and valued. That is why we have united to stage convoys, park our trucks, marched on the boss, and even shut down these ports.

It’s like our hero Dutch Prior, a Shipper’s/SSA Marine driver, told CBS Early Morning this month: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

The more underwater we are, the more our restlessness grows. We are being thoughtful about how best to organize ourselves and do what is needed to win dignity, respect, and justice.

Nowadays greedy corporations are treated as “people” while the politicians they bankroll cast union members who try to improve their workplaces as “thugs.”

But we believe in the power and potential behind a truly united 99%. We admire the strength and perseverance of the longshoremen. We are fighting like mad to overcome our exploitation, so please, stick by us long after December 12. Our friends in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports created a pledge you can sign to support us here.

We drivers have a saying, “We may not have a union yet, but no one can stop us from acting like one.”

The brothers and sisters of the Teamsters have our backs. They help us make our voices heard. But we need your help too so we can achieve the day where we raise our fists and together declare: “No one could stop us from forming a union.”

Thank you.

In solidarity,

Leonardo Mejia
SSA Marine/Shippers Transport Express
Port of Long Beach
10-year driver

Yemane Berhane
Ports of Seattle & Tacoma
6-year port driver

Xiomara Perez
Toll Group
Port of Los Angeles
8-year driver

Abdul Khan
Port of Oakland
7-year port driver

Ramiro Gotay
Ports of New York & New Jersey
15-year port driver

I tried to cut some out for length purposes, but this letter is so good it’s hard to trim it down. Please read the full article to understand the injustices these port drivers face.

This letter speaks not only to the core purpose of Occupy, of coming together and supporting each other against big banks and corporations who are in it for themselves, but also one of the key critiques against Occupy Wall St. “Get a job!” they cry, “Work at McDonalds!” and “If they don’t like it, why don’t they leave?”

For the people who refuse to leave jobs with poor pay and working conditions because they’re afraid they won’t find anything else and they love what they do, listen up:

Despite our great hardships, many of us cannot — or refuse to, as some of the most well-intentioned suggest — “just quit.” First, we want to work and do not have a safety net. Many of us are tied to one-sided leases. But more importantly, why should we have to leave? Truck driving is what we do, and we do it well.

Why should they? Why should they have to leave a profession that they love because their employers can’t provide safe and fair working conditions? Why?

Not to mention the incident in Chicago when the Board of Trade dumped McDonald’s applications on Occupy Chicago protesters. There’s an epidemic of college graduates who are overqualified for many jobs because employers know once something better comes along they’ll be out of there. “But why can’t they just get a job? Work at McDonalds!” they say, “What did you expect when you got a degree in English or Philosophy? For jobs to jump down your back?”

I feel like this is a case of blaming the victim here. Thousands of students did the right thing. They did what they were supposed to. They got the grades and they went to university. They got a degree. A degree that, in brighter days, would almost guarantee them a decent job with a livable wage. And once they’ve finished, what do they get? Thousands of dollars in student loans and a job at Mc-fucking-Donalds. “What? Are they too good to work in fast food?”

Yes! Yes they fucking are! They’ve poured hours and hours into a degree. They’ve pursued higher education and they’ve succeeded. Why shouldn’t they expect to at least have a chance at a job with a livable wage? What happened to encouraging kids to get an education, to pursue higher knowledge. “Sorry darling, you can’t go to school to get an English degree because journalism isn’t a worthy enough job to pay off the large student loans you’ll get by doing something you love.” Is that what we want for our kids? Is that going to be their future? If so, I hope there’s enough McDonalds for them all to work at.

People who tell occupiers to get jobs, who scold them for getting a degree that cost them thousands of dollars that they can’t pay off because they can’t get a reasonable job with the skills and talents that they have to offer, are blaming the victim. They have been robbed of the future they were promised by corporations who outsource jobs, rising tuition costs, and a dying economy. They have been robbed. But go ahead. Throw McDonalds applications at them and yell at them for pursuing an education.

I mean, they’re just dirty hippies looking for handouts, right?

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