Standing Up for Strong Communities and Good Jobs at the Port of Los Angeles
Ron Herrera, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 396
Eric Tate, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 848
We are currently living at a critical juncture in American history. Income inequality is at an all-time high. Corporations are making billions of dollars in profits while ordinary working families are struggling to put food on the table. Our dreams of being able to provide a better future for our families and contribute to our local communities are quickly fading away with the reality that it is becoming harder every day to make a living.
Nowhere is this disparity more evident than in our domestic supply chain, the skeletal frame of the U.S. economy where hard-working men and women load, unload, and transport consumer goods from ports, railyards, and warehouses to store shelves. Since 1980, U.S. imports increased by more than 500 percent, creating millions of new jobs in trucking and warehousing. Yet despite their importance in the economy, since 1980 the median wage for truck drivers has plummeted by 21- 50 percent (depending on the sector), largely the result of a scheme to de-unionize the industry following the deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, which resulted in widespread misclassification of drivers as “independent contractors.” And for warehouse workers, the majority of whom are non-union, on-call “temps” toiling in unsafe conditions, workers’ income averages less than $20,000 per year with few having health insurance for themselves or their families.
The epidemic wage theft in trucking, coupled with the division of workers through staffing agencies, have allowed American retail giants like Lowes, TJ Maxx, and Amazon to generate explosive corporate profits at the expense of hard-working families and the communities in which we live. Thus, it is no coincidence that income inequality in the U.S. is at an all-time high while the percentage of workers able to unite to improve their wages, secure affordable health care, and achieve retirement security is at an all-time low. In 1965, one-third of American workers belonged to a union, which ensured that they earned good wages and benefits and lifted the standards for all workers in the U.S. Over the last 40 years, with widespread schemes to divide workers, aggressive anti-union tactics, and a lack of enforcement of U.S. labor laws, private sector union membership has declined to less than 6 percent. Nevertheless, today’s labor unions are strong and a growing number of Americans believe that unions are the best hope to rebuild our struggling working class.
The communities in which these crucial supply chain workers live are among some of the most impoverished in America. The majority of these workers are immigrants and people of color, and face the brunt of the assault on working families. Ground zero for this economic disaster is at NFI Industries’ operations at the Port of Los Angeles, where hundreds of warehouse workers and port truck drivers who haul and handle imports for major companies such as Lowe’s, Rio Tinto, TJ Maxx, and Amazon have gone on strike seven times in the last five years to demand a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. After years of attempting to work with the company and urging customers to demand that NFI provide safe working conditions, comply with the law, and treat workers fairly, NFI chose to abandon its workers and the community rather than clean up its act.
Angelenos from diverse backgrounds have come together to demand a radical change to the status quo that has gone on for far too long. For years, corporate America has told elected officials and community members that they should be happy to have jobs and that they have no right to make any demands. Now, working people are pushing back. Our communities don’t want just any job; we are demanding a job that pays a living wage and allows families to thrive and prosper.
There is now a tremendous opportunity for a high road, law-abiding logistics company to move onto the Port’s prime Wilmington property. The Port of Los Angeles has issued a Request for Proposal for a new tenant and, with the City’s leadership, we are hopeful for the future. However, the responsibility isn’t just that of the trucking and warehousing companies; it’s also up to the shippers and retailers to live up to their codes of conduct and contract with companies that play by the rules and treat their workers with dignity and respect. We call on Lowe’s, TJ Maxx, Rio Tinto, Best Buy, Puma, New Balance, and Amazon to immediately end their business relationships with NFI Industries because of its egregious record of abuse towards port drivers and warehouse workers. At the end of the day, it is companies like Lowe’s and Rio Tinto that hold the power in our supply chains, and we will hold them accountable to ourselves as the workers hauling and handling their cargo, to our families, and to our communities from which they profit so handsomely.