Exploitative, abusive working conditions are not just something faced by cocoa farmers and garment workers overseas. They're present on highways and at warehouses across America in the port trucking industry. Port truckers carry goods from national ports to warehouses, train-stations, and other locations around the country. But most port truckers are miscategorized as independent contractors, meaning they must pay for their trucks, equipment, and maintenance. And now, thousands of truckers are being forced to pay for added environmental protections while trucking companies line their pockets with green. The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports recently released a report from an in-depth investigation which found that 110,000 port truck drivers in the U.S. are miscategorized as "independent contractors," a classification which allows the companies they work for (contractually, most must work for only one company) to shift all the burdens of maintaining a fleet of trucks to the drivers. It's a policy that leads to widespread abuse. For example, port truckers work an average of 60 hours per week and earn poverty level wages at $29,000 per year on average, 18% less than they'd make as full employees. One driver Max Galvan reported that for every $70,000 worth of goods he hauled, he earned a mere $24 to $40.
The independent contractor classification also leaves drivers vulnerable to a number of labor abuses, including wage theft and overtime abuses. But most significantly, it's a system that is set up to keep drivers dependent on companies and unable to seek out a better gig.
Now, as Jess Leber on the Environment blog reports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is making drivers bear the burden of implementing new regulations to "green their 7,000+port truck fleet." Yes, the old diesel trucks that are often used for port trucking have helped make port cities some of the most polluted in the country, and yes, cleaning up air quality is important. But not at the expense of workers' basic rights, and not as an excuse for tucking companies to squeeze even more cash from their workers in the name of "green."
You can tell the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to create a plan that requires massive, multinational shippers and trucking companies -- not individual low-wage workers -- to bear the cost of buying new, cleaner trucks and implementing better environmental regulations. We shouldn't have to sacrifice clean air or fair treatment of workers just so trucking companies can get a free ride to a greener business model.