The last couple days have seen some interesting developments in the port trucker story that I reported last month.

First, a short summary of the issue. Through a quirk in federal law, most Seattle's port truckers have been labeled "independent contractors" by their employers. This legal technicality may not sound like much, but it shifts all of the expenses on to the drivers, forcing them to pay for their own trucks, gas, taxes, etc, leaving the drivers with less than half of their annual income. To top it all off, it is illegal for independent contractors to organize a union. These guys are getting a really raw deal, and they can't easily negotiate a better one. Surrounding communities are impacted by the cheap, old trucks these guys drive (its all they can afford), which pump pollutants into the neighborhoods surrounding the port, sending respiratory illness rates skyrocketing.

This problem is common to ports throughout the country because the quirk in question is a part of the 1980 nationwide deregulation of the trucking industry. (For a thorough, wonky explanation of the issue check out David Bensman's excellent analysis.) Over the years, a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups, low-income advocates, concerned community members, and local politicians of both political stripes have been building pressure on the feds to close the legislative loophole.

Which leads me to interesting development #1. On Friday, January 22, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn added his voice to the choir by writing a letter to senior Senator Patty Murray asking for her help in the upcoming legislative battle on Capitol Hill. Very cool. (The letter came at the end of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in D.C., where many of the mayors reportedly lobbied their congresspeople in a similar fashion.)

Interesting development #2 is less cheery. Yesterday, Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani went down to San Diego to petition members of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) to back him up in his lobbying efforts against the truckers. I don't know much beyond the meeting itself right now, but I'm going to look into it today, and I'll hopefully be able to get some follow-up for you.

Yoshitani's stance against port reform has been clear for some time. The Port of Seattle has given K Street lobbyists, specifically McBee Strategic Consulting, $60,000 in Port money (i.e., taxpayer money) to combat closing the “independent contractor” loophole. Yoshianti has also entered into an alliance with the reactionary American Trucking Association (ATA), which has slowed down progressive change in ports nationwide by blocking LA’s Clean Trucks Program, which would have required trucking companies to take responsibility for the drivers and their dirty rigs. (The court battle between ATA and LA is preventing any other ports from enacting similar legislation, which is why the battle has moved to the halls of Congress.) The weird thing is that Yoshitani is technically a public employee, hired by the port commissioners, some of whom have come out in favor of Clean Truck legislation. So why is he being allowed to run around undercutting his bosses ? Sounds like a job for newly elected, pro-reform port commissioner Rob Holland!

Correction: The policy meeting was held in Tampa, not San Diego.