AN OPEN LETTER FROM AMERICA’S PORT TRUCK DRIVERS ON OCCUPY THE PORTS

(DECEMBER 12, 2011)
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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 and Tacoma to tell our collective story. . . . 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. . . . 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.” . . . 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. . . . 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.”

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