Port Truck Drivers Take Their Fight For Justice To Capitol Hill!

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Poster for the port truckers campaign against exploitation and wage theft
Poster for the port truckers campaign against exploitation and wage theft

PORT truck drivers from Los Angeles, Long Beach and New Jersey took their fight for justice on the job to Capitol Hill last Thursday.

The truckers are mis-classified as contractors and face wage theft and other exploitation. US Representatives Napolitano and Nadler are introducing two bills – the Port Drivers’ Bill of Rights Act of 2017 and the Clean Ports Act of 2017 – to end a system of forcing port truck drivers into illegal leases as contractors.

The port truckers, like Daniel Seko Uaina, say port truckers have their wages stolen, often have to wait long hours without being paid at the ports and must take on all the company overhead burden.

Daniel Seko Uaina: ‘We’re takin’ the overhead for all these trucking companies. Paying for the equipment – meaning the truck – the fuel, the lease. People even have to pay for a spot on the yard of the company with the equipment, the truck that belongs to the company!

‘So we’re payin’ for all the costs for these companies. And it’s on the backs of us drivers and we need to change it. We need to change it today. And it may not even stop at the trucking industry. When is it gonna stop? And we need to stop it now!’

Teamsters Ports Division Director Fred Potter says the Mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach need to step up to strongly protect exploited port truckers. Fred Potter: ‘The mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach have failed to take action. We believe that they should take a page out of the book of these representatives and stand up for these workers.

‘Ban the lawbreakers, protect the workers from wage and hour theft and theft of their wages.’

Teamsters Local 848 has been working with truckers for years helping them recover stolen wages and to organise on the job. Local 848 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Tate says these port workers are being treated like cattle.

Tate: ‘And these are people. They’re workin’ ’em way over the hours they’re supposed to have. They’re givin’ them no money and leavin’ ’em out in the cold to provide for their families. So we’re gonna to continue to fight this fight until we get justice for each and every one of these drivers.’

• New York State Labourers Organising Fund members have held a rally outside of an American Wind Energy Association investor conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown, Manhattan. An upstate wind energy project has ruffled some feathers with a union that says the company’s not paying workers a fair wage.

More than a dozen members of the New York State Labourers Organising Fund held a rally in front of a Midtown, Manhattan, hotel last Wednesday, where the American Wind Energy Association investor conference was held.

The labourers blasted the hiring of out-of-state workers to build a wind farm in Lewis County. And the workers won’t get paid the prevailing wage, the labourers said. The rally on Wednesday was mostly pointed at EDF Renewable Energy, a California-based company involved in the wind farm project.

‘EDF’s decision to use an out-of state contractor to perform work being subsidised by New York tax dollars is a disgrace,’ said John Hutchings, the director of New York State Labourers Organising Fund. Public subsidies should come with public responsibilities. We should be using the state’s limited development resources to fund projects that provide middle class jobs,’ he said.

EDF Renewable didn’t return an email requesting comment. But earlier this month, the company said its decision to bring in out-of-state workers and pay less than the prevailing wage was ‘a monetary thing.’

The prevailing wage in Lewis County is $25 an hour with benefits. But according to Labourers’ International Union of North America, which represents workers in about seven upstate counties, the hourly rate on the wind project is roughly $17.

LIUNA, which is affiliated with the New York State Labourers Organising Fund, had hoped to talk more to EDF Renewable about signing up locals at the prevailing wage. But communication has broken down over the past few weeks. The impasse made news just as Gov. Cuomo’s office pushed the state’s commitment for clean energy and green jobs at the Climate Jobs NY Summit last week.

Speaking at the summit, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said there are 150,000 New Yorkers now employed in clean energy jobs. The state has plans to develop even more in coming years, with a goal of creating more union jobs, she added.

• Reporters and editors at the commonly owned New York news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist are now represented by a union. The newsroom workers initially agreed to join the union, the Writers Guild of America East, in April, shortly after DNAinfo bought Gothamist.

But DNAinfo’s owner, Joe Ricketts, refused to recognise the union, so the National Labour Relations Board conducted a formal vote last Thursday. The result – 25 out of 27 workers voted to join the Writers Guild – means that management is required to bargain with the union.

DNAinfo, which specialises in covering the city neighbourhood by neighbourhood, has broken big stories and earned respect since its founding in 2009, but it has never turned a profit. Gothamist, with a smaller staff but wider readership, is a blog with attitude that combines original reporting, cultural coverage and aggregation.

After the workers tried to organise in the spring, Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade and whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, wrote to them, ‘As long as it’s my money that’s paying for everything, I intend to be the one making the decisions about the direction of the business.’

DNAinfo’s chief operating officer, Dan Swartz, wrote an email to the staff around the same time, wondering: ‘Would a union be the final straw that caused the business to close? I don’t know.’ DNAinfo had laid off several employees before buying Gothamist, and laid off several more after.

Swartz did not immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did Ricketts.

The Writers Guild, which represents many digital news staffs, including those at Vice, the Gizmodo Media Group and HuffPost, said it would meet with its new members and put together a set of demands. Gothamist has sites in four other cities, and DNAinfo has a site in Chicago, but only the New York employees have joined the union.

Katie Honan, a DNAinfo reporter who covers Queens and was part of the organising effort, said that like many digital-media workers, the newsrooms at DNAinfo and Gothamist were looking for stability.

‘No one’s trying to bankrupt anybody,’ she said. ‘We just want to have an ability to negotiate things, and not necessarily money. If this is the future of journalism, it should be a career for people, not a postcollege hobby.’

Of the management’s threats to shut down the sites, Ms. Honan said, ‘We took them seriously, but we still really thought that unionising for us was the best way to do what Mr. Ricketts wants to do – to collaborate and combine these two sites to really cover New York.’