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During the Seattle WTO protests, in 1999, the phrase "Turtles & Teamsters, Together At Last" (and variations) jumped from protest sign to guiding philosophy. It symbolically described hundreds of thousands Sierra Club activists (who dressed as sea turtles) and union members who marched to demand that human and environmental concerns be included in discussions of global Free Trade regimes.

"Turtles & Teamsters" also put a name to the increasingly common alliances between environmentalists and labor unions, which were no longer willing to accept that protecting the environment and jobs were mutually exclusive conditions. That potent alliance has formed around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and offers both hope and dangers.

In August 2006, Teamster reps at YearlyKos told me the Brotherhood "basically got kicked out of the ports when the trucking industry was deregulated and hiring owner-operators became the standard MO for the industry. The Teamsters ominously said that they were already laying to ground work to reorganize drayage drivers and 'we'll be back'." (LBP 10/19/2006) The following October, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have granted collective bargaining rights to drayage drivers, for the second year in a row. (ibid)

The March 29th edition of the Daily Breeze showed a mob of owner-operators at a Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports rally. Careful observers noted that each of the enthusiastic port truck drivers wore a green fleece with a Teamsters' emblem on the breast, but that not one of them was legally allowed to join the union.

It's the irony in that picture that forshadows an explosive political conflict in the coming months and years. The CCSP has proposed that the Ports limit access to pre-approved companies and their employees, a local-level policy change which would make an end-run around Sacramento. The change would radically alter the labor relations by ending the 'independent contracting', provide a mechanism for enforcing vehicle efficiency upgrades and shore up TSA security initiatives. It would also inevitably (and substantially) raise the cost of moving freight, which means the world's largest retailers and manufacturers will not be gentle.

In the short term, shippers will probably be able to keep the Ports from implementing the CCSP's proposals, but it comes with a risk. Teamsters are famous for their militancy and port truckers have been known to stage their own independent direct actions (i.e. shutting down the I-5 with a single abandoned truck). This is the beginning of an election cycle which many expect to obliterate the Republican Party, and an energized Democratic Party is looking at every conceivable cause to grow and activate its base. Allowing tens of thousands of immigrant truck drivers to unionize will be an easy issue support for Democratic insurgents, and an easy campaign promise to deliver once in power.

Toeing the line and refusing to negotiate has been a reliable breakwater for businesses and shippers keep down costs. Logistics industry insiders, however, predict a 'Perfect Storm' in 2008 and truckers in Long Beach may contribute to the tsunami which threatens to wipe out the deregulated transportation industry of the last 20 years.

For your reading pleasure:

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Originally published as Teamsters & Turtles Target POLA/POLB, Wages & Pollution on Long Beach Politics.

Originally posted to opendna on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 04:52 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your help with tags appreciated. (8+ / 0-)

    It's been awhile and I'm out of practice.

  •  Labor Today (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opendna, antirove

    I think your diary is much more important than meets the eye. It's central to the much bigger picture of labor in the US today.

    •  True that. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      susie dow, CSI Bentonville

      All the challenges in contemporary America have their parallels in this story. Illegal immigration, health care, pollution, manufacturing, wages, race relations, campaign finance...

      It's a little microcosm of so many larger issues.

      But I also see it as a lever for greater progress. If the Teamsters win in POLA/POLB, they'll win across the country. Teamsters don't cross picket lines, and that's a fulcrum that can be used by any other union anywhere in the nation.

  •  Do it for Gilberto (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opendna, antirove, CSI Bentonville

    ... for Gilberto Soto, murdered Teamster organizer

    ... for the truckers

    ... and for your own lungs.

    Cuando a merda tiver valor, pobre nascera sem cu.

    by sayitaintso on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 05:20:55 PM PDT

  •  I hope that they can organize the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opendna, CSI Bentonville

    West Coast ports, but I fear that this will lead shippers to shift imports to the new port facility at Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan, Mexico.  It is set to carry only a portion of the cargo that Long Beach and LA do, but still.  In the long term, I'm certain there will be an effort to push shipping south.  

    •  This is a big concern (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      opendna

      Which is one reason why the whole cross-border trucking issue has been such a big one for us. The NAFTA Superhighway is not just some wingnut fantasy. There is major construction going on right now in Texas and elsewhere to facilitate ground shipments from Mexico.

  •  What can we do to bring back unionizations? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opendna, CSI Bentonville

        I can't recall the name of bill, or if it was national or state, to use "free association" concept to let organizers contact outside of workplace where management can interfere.  Breaking the unions is a big part of taking power from the people.

    De fund + de bunk = de EXIT--->>>>>

    by Neon Mama on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:57:21 PM PDT

  •  Solidarity Brother (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opendna, ManfromMiddletown

    This is a perfect example of how the Teamsters are reaching out to other groups -- environmentalists, human rights organizations, public safety groups, etc. -- to have an impact on our communities. Something like Clean Ports is important not only for workers, who have been shafted by this gaping independent contractor loophole, but also for everyone who breathes the air in and around the ports. There truly is power in numbers and by working together, instead of in our individual silos, we can force change to happen.

    •  Brother: (0+ / 0-)

      the more I think about it, the more I am impressed by the genius (GENIUS!) of targeting the ports as landowners. LBC's mayor and city council have talked themselves into your corner and have the power to affect this change.

      I want to buy a drink for whoever came up with this strategy. Wow.

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