Importing injustice - Page 5

How deregulation and Wal-Mart poison the Port of Oakland's neighbors and force poverty wages on its truckers

But he strongly opposes the coalition's proposal. Instead, he told us, state regulations like those forthcoming from CARB and other piecemeal reforms are the answer.

"The coalition's main goal is to unionize the drivers," Aboudi said. He was wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with two American flags and the words "Oakland Trucker." An immigrant from Israel, he has been at the Port of Oakland since 1992. "If these guys choose to be owner-operators, why are you rocking the boat? You can't be playing with my livelihood just because you want to get union dues," Aboudi said. "Truckers want to own a piece of the American dream. They want to own their own truck."

It's an appealing image to many. Kevin Leonard, an owner-operator trucker who contracts with Aboudi and others, told us he doesn't want to give up his independent status. "I have the freedom to work when I want," he said. "I don't see how the Teamsters can represent me better than I can."

The trucking industry as a whole says the coalition plan will force away trade and drive out small trucking companies, which will have to maintain the trucks and start paying benefits such as health insurance and workers' compensation.

Yet Assemblymember Sandré Swanson (D–Oakland) brushed aside those arguments. "I've been involved in Bay Area politics for more than 30 years," he told us. "I've seen these same claims made against farmworkers as they were organizing for better conditions. I've seen these arguments made when we were raising the minimum wage. I think the opposite is true. If you have a workforce with a livable wage, it's a more productive workforce, and I think everyone benefits. Truckers deserve more, and we're going to do what we can to help them."

Oakland City Council president Ignacio de la Fuente, who drafted and helped pass a minimum-wage law for port employees, told us he supports the right of truckers to unionize but labor and environmental concerns must be balanced with economic growth. "You can't ignore the fact that you have the port of Oakland competing with other ports," he said. "I support the fact that the Teamsters are going to bargain collectively on a national level. This port competes with other ports, and you cannot be put at a disadvantage."

Bloch says the coalition's target is the shipping companies, not the trucking companies. "The shippers are hiding behind the trucking companies," he told us. "On the one side there are the giant shipping companies, like Wal-Mart and Target, huge global companies that demand low prices from trucking companies. On the other side are tiny trucking companies, immigrant truckers, and communities of color. Wal-Mart's slogan is 'always low prices,' but 'always low prices' means one out of five children in West Oakland with asthma and drivers making $8 an hour who can't support their families."

Oakland mayor Ron Dellums may be signaling his support for reform with two new appointees to the Port Commission. Even before he took office, Dellums was working to influence the Port Commission; as mayor-elect, he requested that outgoing mayor Jerry Brown hold off on appointing a new nominee so Dellums could appoint someone working on environmental and community impacts. He lost this battle when a majority of the city council voted to appoint Mark McClure, the director of marketing at a business technology company focused on security.

Dellums's latest appointees, announced earlier this month, are a marked contrast to the business-oriented appointees of the Brown era: Victor Uno, a financial secretary with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Gordon, the longtime resident and environmental activist in West Oakland.

"The port's policy has been all about business and not about the people," Gordon told us.

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