LONG BEACH, Calif. – The West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters joined forces at a protest rally last Monday in support of two bills before the California legislature that would protect the environment and increase highway safety in port areas.

The action is part of a nationwide coalition effort by three of the nation’s most important transport unions to pass standard legislation at U.S. ports. While the ILWU is working with Teamsters on the west coast, the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) is working with Teamsters on the East and Gulf Coasts.

The rally was attended by dozens of port workers and was organized outside of the Port of Long Beach administration building preceding a Long Beach Harbor Commission meeting. Unionists were seeking Commission support for Assembly Bill 2650 introduced by Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), which would help solve the port pollution problem; and Senate Bill 1507 introduced by Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), which would ensure that terminal operators are held responsible for giving drivers truck chassis that meet basic safety standards.

“The port drivers are exploited enough,” said Gary Smith, the West Coast Teamster representative for the Port Division, representing 10,000 truckers. “We are uniting with the ILWU to put a stop to it.”

Joining Smith at the rally was Ramon Ponce De Leon, president of ILWU Local 13, representing his International union, who echoed Smith, saying, “it’s about time that we get together” in this effort to “secure legislation in the interests of labor.”

The Lowenthal bill would restrict the time trucks stand idling at terminal gates, spewing diesel pollution into the ports and the harbor communities, and fine terminal operators $250 for every truck that waits at the terminal gates more than 30 minutes.

“We have to wait as long as three or four hours for our trucks to be inspected,” trucker Lorenzo Modesto told the World. “Every time the waiting truckers start up their engines, there is more pollution.”

Six thousand longshore union members and 10,000 truck drivers at the ports are the first to be impacted by the diesel-polluted air, including most of their families, who live in the harbor area, but it is a major problem for the entire community as well.

The Romero bill would require that unsafe chassis, which containers are loaded on, be red-tagged and isolated on the terminals until they are repaired. The terminal operators will also be fined for unsafe chassis and will be required to pay for any tickets drivers receive as a result.

Placing more responsibility on operators for safety conditions and roadworthy chassis is necessary for safety, say union leaders, especially considering that in the Long Beach/Los Angeles port area, 35,000 containers are hauled out everyday.

“Truckers who are paid by the load instead of by the hour should not be forced to choose between wasting more time to make their delivery and getting a safe piece of equipment,” stated the unions.

The Long Beach Harbor Commission agreed to put the matter on a future agenda and to continue to discuss the legislation and other possible solutions with the two unions. Steve Stallone, ILWU communications director, said, “This is a first step in dealing with the pollution and road safety problems that expanding international trade brings to port communities. Our two unions are committed to passing this legislation and finding further solutions.”

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com

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