In today’s New York Times, Steven Greenhouse tackles the issue that we’ve been braying about here at The Stranger for the last several months—reforming drive to the nation’s ports with stronger labor and environmental standards. From the NYT:
The labor-green alliance is getting under the trucking industry’s skin by asserting that short-haul trucking companies working in ports — and not the truck drivers, who are often considered independent contractors — should spend the billions needed to buy new, low-emission rigs that can cost $100,000 to $175,000 each.
Greenhouse hits all the right notes, particularly the “independent contractor” clause, which allows companies to avoid giving benefits, maintenance, or gas money to drivers who are their employees in everything but name. Greenhouse also (inadvertently) highlights the inadequacy of the Port of Seattle clean trucking program, which offers to give drivers of soon-to-be-banned pre-1994 trucks, which produce high levels of pollutants, $5,000 or less for vehicles. Even with the Port’s help in securing loans, there is no way that the drivers will be able to afford new trucks. The best they’ll be able to get will be slightly newer models that the Port will probably ban a few years down the road.
The issue comes down to reforming the cumbersomely titled Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (F4A) which, if altered, would allow port’s to regulate strong labor and environmental standards, including requiring companies to actually hire their workers (which in turn would allow drivers to unionize) and maintain a clean and up-to-date truck fleet.
“The article made it very clear that Seattle is facing a crisis that almost all other ports around the country are also facing,” said Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, the umbrella group for the aforementioned labor-green alliance. “It was also really helpful for the Washington congressional delegation to see that the issue does have a national component and that they need to pay attention.”
Weiner expresses hope that altering F4A and the wider clean port reform won’t become bogged down in the bitter partisan politics that have immobilized Congress recently. She cites a number of Republican lawmakers who support reform, including several House members and multi-billionaire mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. She also noted a recent “very good meeting” with Dave Reichert, Republican Representative from Washington’s Eighth District, although she emphasized that he had not committed to either side. (Reichert's office has not yet responded to requests to comment.)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the issue within the next two months. Two Washington Representatives sit on the committee, both Democrats. The soon-to-be retired Brian Baird of the 3rd District and Rick Larsen of the 2nd District (Larsen’s record suggests that he would be a reliable voice for reform, despite his New Democrat credentials).