Mayors Garcetti and Garcia Must Stand Up for Port Truck Drivers

My name is Seko Uaina and I am a port drayage driver in the South Bay of Los Angeles.

Every day, I move containers filled with products destined for Target, Amazon, or General Electric Appliances from the docks at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to local warehouses, where they begin their journey to homes across the country. I’m proud to be a vital part of our local and national economy. Together with the 75,000 port truck drivers that serve our nation’s seaports — one-third of whom work right here in California — I help to transport approximately 250 million metric tons of imported goods worth $900 billion annually.

Seko Uaina is a port drayage driver in the South Bay of Los Angeles

Unfortunately, the company I work for — Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) — has made it increasingly difficult for me to make a living. They do this by illegally, and immorally, classifying me as an independent contractor instead of an employee. I am saddled with debilitating costs, Everything from fuel, to insurance, to the lease for the truck are deducted from my paycheck — leaving me with barely enough to get by. As a result, I am deprived of my essential rights as a worker and a human being.

There was a time I became extremely ill. Because of my misclassification as an independent contractor, I am ineligible for sick days, disability, unemployment and other support measures. My family and I nearly lost everything.

My story is repeated many times over in New Jersey, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere across the country. Approximately 80 percent of our nation’s port truck drivers are misclassified and forced to take on debt they can’t afford. This debt is then used as leverage to require drivers to work exceedingly long hours and accept take-home pay that is less than the minimum wage. We are essentially indentured servants.

With the help of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, we have taken our fight to court — where judges have sided with us 97 percent of the time. Yet our employers refuse to acknowledge the law. Blinded by corporate greed (CEO pay has increased by 997 percent over the past 10 years) they continue to pocket profits while forcing workers like me, and the families that depend on us, further into poverty.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are one of the world’s largest trade gateways, ushering in 40 percent of our nation’s imported goods each year. Together, they generate more than $10 billion in annual state and local tax revenues.

When it comes to governance of these ports, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia are in charge.

I have one question for them: Why are IBT and other companies allowed to continue operating with complete disregard for the law?

In the face of their inaction, we recently launched yet another strike. We are not afraid to continue to demand the rights we deserve. We ask that the leaders elected to serve our interests do the same.

While Mayor Garcia did acknowledge our recent efforts on the picket line, Mayor Garcetti has remained completely silent about our struggle. Instead, he joined with Mayor Garcia to unveil the latest iteration of the ports’ joint Clean Air Action Plan, to be finalized in November, which includes requirements for a zero-emission drayage fleet by 2035.

While I applaud their efforts to reduce pollution and create cleaner air for our children, I am concerned that this mandate will only add to the already crippling burden shouldered by those of us who drive the drayage fleet.

In fact, in 2008, when a clean trucks mandate was first introduced, the city of Los Angeles realized that converting to new trucks would be “prohibitively expensive” for drivers. The city required that IBT and other companies acknowledge that we were employees, which meant they were responsible for the new trucks. The companies sued and a court overturned the city’s efforts — and here we are today, unable to afford to do our jobs.

We need Mayors Garcetti and Garcia to ensure that these corporate overlords aren’t allowed to once again pass the buck — and push the burden for protecting our environment onto us. We need them to stand up to these lawbreakers. Enough is enough.

I am proud of the work I do. I want nothing more than to keep driving an essential piece of our local and national economy, while earning a wage that allows me to provide for my family.

I deserve the chance to do just that.