Cleaner Ports, Better Jobs

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Today’s guest blog is by Jon Zerolnick of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, who will be speaking at our May 7-8 conference.

We have gotten accustomed to taking our victories where and when we can get them: often marginal improvements and often for small beneficiaries (a handful of workers here, a small community group there). So it is rare (for me) to be able to write of a major victory. But at LAANE, working as part of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, we were just part of something pretty huge: a major victory both for workers and for the environment.

Because of their actions taken last month, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners will not just be reforming the broken, dysfunctional port trucking industry; they will be rebuilding it from the ground up. Some 16,000 exploited truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles (the largest port in the country) have for decades been misclassified as independent contractors. They have finally won long-sought employee rights, which will lead to improvements in pay and working conditions as drivers now have, at long last, the right to organize. People living in the communities around the Port have won meaningful new truck standards that will improve air quality as we get filthy, dilapidated trucks off the roads in favor of newer, cleaner trucks.

Perhaps most important, this multi-year campaign has forged essential new ties between the labor & environmental communities. We’ve gotten beyond the tired old dichotomies of jobs versus environment to a new place where we not only support one another, but where we understand that it is the same forces (of global capital) that hamper progress for all of us.

(I should note that though this was a major victory, we still have much work to do. We will be focused on defending against the expected frivolous lawsuits. We will have to ensure that everything is implemented properly. Most important, we have to lead the way so that LA’s sister port, the Port of Long Beach, scraps their trucking scheme — which fails to address the true underlying problem — and replaces it with a comprehensive solution as LA did. We will then work to make sure that we can replicate at Ports around the country the gains we’ll be seeing here in Southern California.)

I’d urge you: in whatever corner of this movement you find yourself, building and strengthening these ties between different groups is going to be critical as we all move forward to build a more sane, sustainable and just society.

See you May 7 and 8 at the Good Jobs First conference!

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