He said he works up to 60 hours a week for one company, making the equivalent of about $8 an hour after expenses.
Fre arrives at work every day no later than 6:30 a.m., waits for dispatches from his company, and spends a minimum of two hours in line for each container he picks up or drops off. He is paid $42 for each load by the company. He doesn't know how much the trucking companies make but has heard that some get $200 per load. He returns home around 6:30 at night.
"The whole time I'm at the port, I'm thinking about my family," he said. "I got children. The only thing I'm thinking inside the terminal is, how many moves am I going to do? Am I going to do four or five or three or two?"
On a good day he can get four, on a bad day as few as one, depending on the length of the lines and the generosity of the dispatcher. Then there are his expenses. As an independent operator, Fre is solely responsible for a tankful of diesel that costs him up to $250 a pop. DMV registration is $178 a month, and 12 percent of his weekly earnings goes to his boss for insurance on his truck, not to mention annual federal income tax.
He receives no benefits, no overtime pay, and no health care coverage at a time when his wife, a diabetic, is suffering from severe stomach complications. "I'm taking her to Highland Hospital," he told us. "If it's easy for them to fix, they can do it. But if she has a big problem, they can't do it."
Fre has his own health problems. "Most of the drivers, we have old trucks," he said. "You don't have AC, your windows are down, and you get sick in the truck" from the diesel. Fre's remedy for his persistent coughing and the burning in his throat is several glasses of milk after each day of work.
A 1998 study published in the Journal of Independent Medicine found that truck drivers face a risk of cancer 10 times greater than Occupational Safety and Health Administrationacceptable levels, and a 1990 study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that truckers face nearly double the average lifetime lung cancer risk.
Fre has little money to invest in his truck, a ragged 1987 model that he said needs $5,000 in repairs. He doesn't trust it on the freeway, so he's asked his dispatcher to send him only from pier to pier, not outside the port, further dipping into his earnings. "I came here to see a better life," he said. "When I got here, I found it is different. Here we don't get paid for the overtime. We don't get benefits. When I get into the terminal, there is no respect."
His experience is typical of those of port truckers across the country. A study by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a labor-affiliated think tank, found that the average Port of Oakland trucker makes as little as $8 an hour after expenses, works 11 hours a day, and spends two and a half hours in line per load. Almost none of the truckers reported receiving benefits on the job, and 66 percent don't have health insurance.
This is consistent with data from a 2004 survey of port truckers in Los Angeles and Long Beach, conducted by a professor of economics at California State University Long Beach. That report found they had a median income of $25,000 a year after expenses and an average workday of 11.2 hours, with up to 33 percent of their time spent waiting in line.
Port truckers generally drive only the oldest, most polluting trucks because that's all they can afford. An industry adage is that ports are "the place trucks go to die," a reality that has dire impacts on the surrounding communities.
POLLUTING THE COMMUNITY
West Oakland has long been a dumping ground for the Bay Area's toxic waste.