Photo via Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) Twitter

Photo via Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) Twitter

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) introduced two separate bills on Capitol Hill Thursday that are aimed at addressing labor and environmental issues at our nation’s ports.

At a gathering in front of the capitol building with truckers and representatives from the Teamsters union, the two members of Congress announced the Port Drivers Bill of Rights and the Clean Ports Act. The Port Drivers Bill of Rights would create a federal task force to investigate and provide recommendations on the prevalence and use of abusive independent-contractor lease agreements and low wages in the port trucking industry.

“Hundreds of port truck drivers are being forced into working as independent operators as a way for their employer to pay them below minimum wage and deny them benefits,” said Rep. Napolitano. “It is unthinkable that companies can continue to get away with this scheme to underpay hard working truck drivers.”

Napolitano cited a driver receiving $150 per day in wages but needing to pay $140 per day to lease a truck from the company that he or she is contracted to work for, effectively bringing home well less than the minimum wage. Back in June, a USA Today report exposed some abuses within the independent contractor port trucking world, comparing some of the drivers' work situations to a kind of indentured servitude.

Port trucking companies and associations have called this report into question and said that it was an attempt by labor unions to organize port workers. After that report came out, a Harbor Trucking Association representative told HDT that USA Today had cherry picked cases for their extremeness and that they were not representative of the typical port truck driver’s situation.

In response to this latest legislation, HTA Executive Director Weston LaBar challenged the assertions of policymakers and urged them to meet with companies and those within the industry to hear their side of the story.

“The vast majority of drivers prefer to be independent due to the flexibility it offers and the ability to make more money. Studies have shown that the independent drivers make more money on average than employee drivers,” said LaBar. “Hopefully, the folks that are leading these efforts will sit down with stakeholders other than organized labor and take the opportunity to understand all the challenges our industry faces. We don’t need politicians deciding how people operate their businesses.”

The Clean Ports Act was also introduced today, dealing the issues of poor air quality in the areas that surround major port complexes. The legislation would require cities to have more control over emissions regulation at local ports.

"In the current inefficient port industry, drivers are often forced to idle for hours at marine terminals in trucks spewing filth into the air," said Rep. Nadler. "The ports need the ability to clean up harbor communities with the ability to hold the retailers, not the drivers, accountable for necessary changes that would clean the air.

“President Trump regularly touts his affinity and sympathy for hard-working Americans who have been treated unfairly,” Nadler added. “There should be no mistaking the hardships faced by port truck drivers and those living near port areas.”

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