A group of port workers in Los Angeles has filed for a rare union election, and another just ended a two-week strike that brought the Port of Seattle to a near standstill.
On December 12, as Occupy activists were preparing to shut down ports across the West Coast, five port truck drivers wrote them a letter. The drivers, elected by committees of their co-workers at seven ports, declined to take a stance on that week’s controversy: whether dock workers and their unions should join the attempted shutdowns. But they praised the Occupy movement's vision and leadership, and asked for its help in publicizing their own terrible working conditions. And the port truckers made a promise; that they and their co-workers would “organize ourselves and do what is needed to win dignity, respect, and justice.”
Two months later, one group of port workers has filed for a rare union election, backed by international solidarity. Another just ended a two-week strike that brought the Port of Seattle to a near standstill.
Outrageous Loopholes and the Employers Who Love Them
Many Americans picture trucking as a draining but sustaining middle-class job – a decent day’s pay for a full day’s work. In their December letter, the five drivers paint a very different picture.
“There are no restrooms for drivers,” they write. “We keep empty bottles in our cabs. Plastic bags too. We feel like dogs.” Despite working 60 or more hours a week, “we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part-time at a fast-food counter.” These drivers, mostly immigrants, haul cargo for major companies like Starbucks and Walmart. The various “logistics” companies they work for provide them no healthcare or retirement benefits.
The drivers warn that their work conditions hurt not just them and their families, but everyone living around the ports where they work: New York, New Jersey, Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, Long Beach, and Los Angeles. Because old trucks poison the air, “our economic conditions are what led to the environmental crisis.” Management insistence on cutting corners “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’” by being fired or simply not asked back to work.
An investigation by Seattle’s King 5 News revealed that the majority (58 percent) of those container haulers pulled over by officials for Level 1 inspections were pulled out-of-service for having one or more safety violations.
These conditions are entrenched, as Tara Lohan reported for AlterNet in December, by misclassification. Because of trucking deregulation in 1980, 100,000 truckers are considered “independent contractors,” not employees. As in other sectors of the economy, that title brings workers few benefits, many burdens, and restricted options. Increasingly, management doesn’t provides drivers their trucks – workers buy them, or pay to lease them from the company. Management doesn’t keep up the trucks, the workers do, and they pay the fines when they get pulled over, fail inspection, and get ticketed. Management often doesn’t even pay an hourly wage – workers get paid by the delivery, and sit for hours in toll lines or traffic jams knowing their waiting is earning them nothing.
“Our rights have been taken,” says Meconnen, who has been a port truck driver for four years. Despite his legal status, “I’m not a subcontractor, because they tell me, go from Point A to Point B, and I don’t even know how much they’ll pay me until the check comes.” Along with paying all the costs of maintaining a truck, he’s required to buy accident insurance directly from the company he works for. As for his own health, “Since I started working for this company, I never go to the doctor, because I never have insurance.” After work-related expenses, he estimates, “you probably take home $20,000 a year.”
And, like an increasing number of American workers, these “independent contractors” aren’t considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act. That means that while workers can organize and act as a union, the law doesn’t require their bosses to recognize or collectively bargain with them.
“The more underwater we are,” the drivers wrote, “the more our restlessness grows.”
Seattle Workers’ Strike Forces Port Slowdown
That restlessness has been on full display this month, as hundreds of port truck drivers struck for two weeks, leaving the Port of Seattle in disarray. Instead of hauling cargo, drivers showed up at Washington’s state capitol, where legislators were debating two pro-labor bills: one to crack down on truckers’ classification as independent contractors, and another to shift the costs of trucking safety violations back to the companies that hire them. They stayed out for over two weeks. Many resumed trucking on Wednesday; others are still not returning to work.
A January 30 confrontation between Meconnen and management helped instigate the strike. He and a group of co-workers called out of work that Monday to attend a hearing on the misclassification bill. His boss turned out to be at the state capital as well, testifying against the reforms and citing wage statistics Meconnen says were nothing like his actual pay. When he returned to work on Tuesday, Meconnen says management asked him why he hadn’t worked the previous day, and then, when he answered honestly, retaliated against him by giving him a different work assignment.
“They knew I did not have the right equipment” to do that assignment safely, says Meconnen, and “they said, ‘Go do this.’” When he refused, citing safety concerns, he was told not to work for the rest of the week. Meconnen is filing complaints against his employer, Western Ports, for violating state and federal whistleblower protections. (Management denies this account.)
“Within 30 minutes,” says Meconnen, “at least 20 of my fellow drivers…all decided that they would all come out.” Over a few days, their numbers grew from dozens to hundreds. The Seattle Times reported that “Last week, they were largely successful in shutting down the movement of freight.”
Since driving off the job, workers have been a daily presence at the state capital. Last week the Washington State House passed the misclassification bill, which now heads to the Senate. Change to Win’s TJ Michels credits that victory to the drivers’ action. While “misclassification clearly has fueled unrest at the ports for decades now,” she says, it was due to the strike that “lawmakers in Olympia got a first-hand look.”
Last week, a rally outside a small business founded by country-western singer Bob Edgmon won unpaid back wages from Edgmon Trucking for 24 drivers. Workers gathered at a Teamsters union hall Saturday to discuss truckers’ working conditions with Seattle’s Port Commissioner and a city council member. Hundreds of workers and supporters rallied on Monday. This week they recorded a video message to US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, asking her to visit Seattle and see the abuses imposed by bosses on so-called “independent contractors.”
Wednesday, drivers announced that most workers were returning to work. Meconnen says that decision was made for two reasons: The difficulty of continuing to go without pay, and the achievement of significant concessions from many of the companies drivers work for. Among those victories: pay will increase; management will cover more of the costs of insuring trucks; drivers will be paid for time they spend waiting, in excess of one hour, in line to go through tolls.
Workers who engage in collective action against their boss are always taking a risk, despite the legal protections for such actions on paper. But their status as “independent contractors” makes these drivers’ action that much more risky. What they had to protect them was not the law, but each other; the hope that involving enough people, and drawing enough attention and sympathy, would make it practically or politically unwieldy for management to sack them.
Meconnen says that although he hasn’t seen signs of retaliation yet, workers are watching for it, and ready to back up anyone targeted by management for their participation. “We don’t want to do this again,” he says. “But if something is going to happen again like retaliation, we will do it again. We will shut it down.”
LA Workers’ Election Showdown
Port truck drivers are making progress in fighting their misclassification. But as millions of American workers know, being covered by US labor law is no cure-all for exploitation. One of the truckers who signed the December letter, Xiomara Perez, is already legally recognized as an employee. Perez works for Toll, an $8.3 billion Australia-based logistics company that transports cargo for fashion companies like Polo and Ralph Lauren. Toll’s 74 Los Angeles-area drivers are among the minority of port truckers not misclassified as independent contractors. Change to Win’s Michels chalks that up to the high-end fashion industry’s desire for “extreme control” over drivers. Last month, Perez and co-workers announced the filing of a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union election to join the Teamsters.
Toll, which has 12,000 unionized transportation employees in Australia, has been bitterly fighting its American employees’ attempt to win union recognition. As I’ve reported for AlterNet, it’s not unusual for companies that play by more progressive rules in other countries to take full advantage of union-busting opportunities in the United States. The NLRB last month issued a complaint (similar to an indictment) against Toll for anti-union crimes including surveillance, retaliation, harassment, interrogation, and discrimination.
“I personally have been subjected to interrogation and intimidation by Toll managers,” Perez said on a media call last month, “and many of my co-workers have been subjected to the same practice, but we remain strong and united…In the yard we are exposed to the elements with no place to sit down and take our lunch. No running water…and no toilets for women. We are treated like second-class citizens.”
By using the NLRB election process, the Toll workers and the Teamsters are taking a risk. The prevalence of anti-union tactics, and the weakness of the legal remedies available for confronting them, have led some major unions to abandon the NLRB election process. Employers often gerrymander voter lists and use frivolous challenges to delay elections while trying to scare workers out of a forming a union. Even when workers win an election, they often never win a union contract, because employers appeal election results or intentionally deadlock negotiations.
Since it’s nearly impossible to win a union contract under the NLRB process without tempering a company’s desire to crush the union, increasingly labor is tackling the challenge differently: Using pressure from workers, consumers, media, and politics to break a company’s will to crush the union before going through an election or other form of recognition process. In these campaigns, the real action takes place before the union is recognized, as workers and their allies demand a fair process under which the company gives up some of the union-busting opportunities under the law. (In other cases, unions offer management contract concessions ahead of time, or political assistance, or the chance to keep out a more militant union, in exchange for keeping the anti-union campaign holstered.)
The toll campaign isn’t taking that approach. Michels says Toll sent a letter to workers last month goading them to file for a union election or drop their campaign. Despite the evidence that Toll saw an NLRB election as an opportunity to kill the union campaign once and for all, workers submitted the petition to the NLRB. “The workers understand the risks,” says Michels.
“They wanted a fair process and that’s what they were fighting for, but as the shenanigans were becoming more frequent…they assessed their support, they understood that they had a strong majority and…they decided, ‘You know what, we’re ready for this…it's going to be like going through a meat grinder, but we’re going to be strong.’” Michels says labor will push back against the anti-union campaign through solidarity among co-workers, support and pressure from Toll’s unionized Australian employees, and a team of community monitors that will monitor and publicize Toll’s conduct.
These community monitors have no legal authority, and there’s no agreement with the company recognizing their authority. But they’re part of labor’s effort to discourage or expose Toll’s anti-union tactics in the campaign. A clergy delegation attempted to present its own proposed election principles to management at a Toll facility; Toll refused to let the pastors into the building. In a video posted by Clean and Safe Ports on February 6, student Amanda Mendoza says drivers report repeated mandatory anti-union meetings.
After urging a vote, Michels says Toll is now using legal stalling tactics to delay the setting of an election date. Toll workers in Los Angeles and Australia have been communicating regularly over the Internet, and a delegation of Australian workers will be visiting Los Angeles for several days in support of their US co-workers’ election campaign. In Los Angeles, in Seattle and in Australia, workers are wearing wristbands with one message in multiple languages: “Our fight is your fight.”
“It’s a big job,” Perez says. “We are exposed to everything…We are united and strong, and we will take the fight to the end.”
Link to original article from AlterNet
As large swathes of the western United States continue to wither under the effects of record-breaking drought, longstanding local concerns over water use are becoming increasingly contentious, adding to the national debate over corporate right and common good.
In recent weeks, a desert area of Southern California has seen focus suddenly turn toward a water-bottling plant owned by Nestle Waters North America, which has continued its operations despite the worsening water crisis. In an outraged action request in mid-August, the League of Conservation Voters, a prominent national lobby group, urged 50,000...
Carey L. Biron | Mint Press News 12 Sep 2014 Hits:598 California
(Reuters) - The California State Senate passed legislation on Tuesday imposing strict regulations on how law enforcement and other government agencies can use drones, a move supporters said will protect privacy and prevent warrantless surveillance.
The bill attracted bipartisan support in the Senate, passing 25-8 during the evening vote in Sacramento.
The legislation would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using an unmanned aircraft, or drone, except in emergencies such as a fire or a hostage-taking.
Other public agencies would be able to use drones, or contract for their use,...
Aaron Mendelson | Reuters 28 Aug 2014 Hits:630 California
Alarmed that fewer than one-fourth of voters are showing up for municipal elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council look at using cash prizes to lure a greater number of people to the polls.
On a 3-0 vote, the panel said it wanted City Council President Herb Wesson's Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee to seriously consider the use of financial incentives and a random drawing during its elections, possibly as soon as next year.
Depending on the source of city funds, the idea could...
David Zahniser | Governing 17 Aug 2014 Hits:549 California
As residents of California are urged to conserve water and the state considers placing a mandatory restriction on outdoor water usage, Nestlé is trucking away undisclosed amounts of the precious resource in the form of bottled water.
The Desert Sun has an in-depth report of controversy brewing around the company’s bottling plant, which draws water from a drought-stricken area for its Arrowhead and Pure Life brand water. Because the plant is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, it’s exempt from oversight by local water agencies and is able to keep...
Lindsay Abrams | Salon 03 Aug 2014 Hits:1081 California
Jacque DelRio interviews Chris Silva (brother of David Silva) and the family attorney David Khon on PDA Radio on Saturday 6/21 at 3pm EST.
One year after the death of David Sal Silva, who was beaten by police outside a Bakersfield hospital, family, friends, and supporters gathered near Kern County Superior Court to commemorate his life and to put a spotlight on police brutality in the community.
Protesters greeted rush hour traffic with signs demanding accountability for police misconduct and exposed the names of the officers that were involved in Silva’s death.
Alfred Camacho | New America Media 27 May 2014 Hits:445 California
This is the story of my attempts to speak publicly about my friendship with Todd Ashker, a reputed “leader” of the hunger strike in California’s prisons. Since the latest hunger strike began on July 8, the California authorities have targeted Ashker for special attention, placing articles, editorials and op-eds in the California Press that paint him as some kind of neo-Nazi devil. The evidence they give for this portrayal is entirely from 1991 and before.
I know the Todd Ashker of 2013. For some years, I have corresponded with him and...
Denis O'Hearn | LA Progressive 25 Aug 2013 Hits:996 California
“It was like a dream. From the Rules Committee committing to end the packing of endorsement caucuses by elected officials, to our anti-fracking resolution coming out of committee stronger than when it went in and then passing on the consent calendar, to the sold-out PDA luncheon and the overwhelming win by RL Miller in the Environmental Caucus, PDA and other progressives hurried from win to win pinching ourselves to see if it was real.”
As Dorothy Reik, PDA Santa Monica Mountains Chapter Leader so aptly put above, PDA was again what...
Dr. Bill Honigman, PDA California State Co-Coordinator 16 Apr 2013 Hits:1123 California
California became the fifth and largest state this week to win federal approval for a new plan aimed at improving care for almost a half-million of the state’s most vulnerable patients.
Called Cal MediConnect, the new three-year demonstration program initially will enable the eight counties to pool funding and resources for so-called “dual-eligibles,” lower-income people who qualify both for federal Medicare and the federal-state Medi-Cal program for the poor (California’s name for Medicaid).
In announcing the program Wednesday in a teleconference from Sacramento, California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley, said...
Viji Sundaram and Paul Kleyman | New America Media 30 Mar 2013 Hits:1012 California
New tactics and hands-on organizing help California Calls redraw the Golden State's political map.
Progressives who want a path to a political future where an emerging electorate is bypassing the budget battles now afflicting Congress and where decades of damage wrought by right-wingers is slowly being repaired, should look to California. There, a historic coalition of local organizers and labor unions have been remaking the landscape since 2010 by engaging “overlooked” voters.
For much of the past decade, California had terrible state budget deficits, a legislature...
Steven Rosenfeld | AlterNet 01 Mar 2013 Hits:717 California
For the 8th year in a row, healthcare reform activists from all over the state gathered in Sacramento and Los Angeles to support the annual CaHPSA Lobby Day March and Rally. Health professional students from college campuses all over California come to Sacramento every winter to lobby their legislative representatives for a single payer healthcare system.
Nurses, doctors, and activists started the day by marching into the California Association of Health Plans, and serving them with an Eviction Notice, demanding they remove themselves from...
Campaign for a Healthy California 16 Feb 2013 Hits:696 California
From 2008 to 2011, metals stolen for resale to recyclers rose 81 percent nationwide.
The thieves strike in the middle of the night and work fast, in pairs or teams. They can make an entire neighborhood go dark in minutes. They screw open the street light maintenance boxes, find the copper wires and cut. Zip, zip.
While police nab copper thieves in the act, they can’t be everywhere. Come nighttime, some streets are as black as caves. Even if thieves stopped today, utility crews would need up...
Evelyn Nieves | AlterNet 06 Feb 2013 Hits:821 California
As a lawsuit was filed to stop unregulated fracking in California, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast, claimed that fracking causes no environmental harm in the state.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a rapidly spreading, environmentally destructive new method of oil and gas extraction that is drawing growing opposition throughout the state by environmentalists, fishermen, tribal members, family farmers and...
Dan Bacher | IndyBay Media 01 Feb 2013 Hits:1046 California
Henry Vandermeir, who cashed in a successful career writing computer books so he could spend much of the past 15 years as a political activist, was elected chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County on Monday night by the county party’s governing Central Committee.
Vandermeir, who bested gay activist Jeff LeTourneau in a 36-21 vote, replaces Santa Ana attorney Frank Barbaro, who stepped down after leading the county party for the past 12 years.
“I am going to have fun beating Republicans,” Vandermeir told Central Committee members.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER 16 Jan 2013 Hits:967 California
Dr Ami Bera, a Los Angeles-born physician son of Indian immigrants, has increased his lead in the race for California's 7th Congressional district bringing him a step closer to making history.
If he wins, Bera will only be the third Indian-American elected to the US House of Representatives after Dalip Singh Saund in 1952 and current Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal in 2004.
Running for the second time the seat around Sacramento, Bera was ahead by a razor-thin 184 votes against Republican incumbent Dan Lungren, with 88,406...
Arun Kumar | Daily News 12 Nov 2012 Hits:1215 California
The shameless spectacle of billionaires drowning the airwaves should not numb us to the consequences of what is at stake if the super rich succeed in buying our elections.
While most of the national focus is on the Presidential race and some high profile Senate elections, the less profiled California ballot measures provide a disturbing portrait of what of a clearly broken system.
California Propositions 32 and 33 in particular and the onslaught of secretive political action committees that hide the names of their rich sponsors, are just...
Rose Ann DeMoro | Common Dreams 25 Oct 2012 Hits:1365 California
Prop. 30 - Tax Increases for Education, Public Safety
Recommended vote: Yes
This measure would mean an increase in fair funding for education, while its defeat would send California deeper into…
The September 29, 2012 opening of the Green Music Center (GMC) at Sonoma State University (SSU) was nothing less than a grand celebration of wealth and privilege. Beaded dresses, tuxedos,…
The 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United trampled on America's founding principles, swamped our democracy in corporate cash and needs to be overturned," said Brad Newsham, the San Francisco…
High gasoline prices have become a political wild card in California, where several tight races are pivotal to Democrats’ slim hopes of winning back control of the House
Hoping to build a larger coalition from the ranks of the Democratic Party, about 22 members of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains (PDSMM) gathered on…
LOS ANGELES — One year after federal law enforcement officials began cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry with a series of high-profile arrests around the state, they finally…
Two weeks ago, we got word that Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan would be in Fresno September 8 for a campaign fundraising dinner. The only details we had were that…
LOS ANGELES — Sebastian Flores walked out of Al Salam Pollería with a free bag of white-feathered chicken heads.
Mr. Flores, 26, an immigrant and a regular customer of Al Salam,…
Along Broadway here, in the heart of Chinatown, immigrants crowd around fruit and vegetable shops, asking prices in Mandarin and Cantonese. Men hawk huge red grapes from a…
For support in organizing within your state, contact:
State LeadershipDr. Bill Honigman
Email us at: email@example.com
FresnoLos AngelesMarinMontereyOrangePalm Springs and Surrounding Desert CitiesSacramentoSan DiegoSan Fernando ValleySan FranciscoSanta BarbaraShastaSouth Placer (CD-4)Southeast Los AngelesYolo Want to bring progressive change to California? Start a PDA chapter; send us an email and we'll get you started.
PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.
Information from SourceWatch