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John Petro

Independent Port Truck Drivers Aren’t So Independent; Earn less than employee drivers

Port Elizabeth.jpg

The NY Post highlights a study conducted by David Bensman and Yael Bromberg of Rutgers University that examines the port trucking labor market at the ports of Newark, Elizabeth, and Bayonne. The study shows that port drivers, especially the 75 percent of drivers that are classified as "independent owner-operators", are getting a raw deal in terms of their wages and benefits. These drivers barely make enough money to support their families in high-cost Northern New Jersey: independent truck drivers at the port net $28,000 a year (after expenses) while employee-drivers make $35,000 a year.

The study shows that the situation of independent truckers at NY/NJ ports is similar to that of the independent drivers at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, where the average independent trucker earned $29,600 a year. Low wages all but ensured that the independent drivers at the Port of Los Angeles would need to use older, more polluting trucks as the purchase of a newer, cleaner truck would not be possible at these income levels. The same is true for the NY/NJ ports. The average truck at the Port Authority ports is 11 years old. According to the study:

Diesel engines of this vintage pollute at least ten times more than modern ones, consume more fuel, cost more to maintain, and require frequent repairs. The most dangerous element of diesel engine emissions is the particle of 2.5 microns or less in diameter. These fine particles are coated with over 40 dangerous substances, and when passed into the bloodstream through the lungs, cause asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.

The study highlights more ways in which the negative costs of port trucking are passed down to truck drivers and the community surrounding the ports. Most drivers are uninsured, placing more strain on the health system. Drivers also must wait about two hours every time they call on one of the ports, which they do about 2-3 times a day. Independent truck drivers are not paid for this time while employee drivers are paid.

The study also shows that, despite their classification, independent truck drivers are employees in all but name. Independent drivers are beholden to a single trucking company and are not allowed to work for any other trucking company.

As an Op-Ed by then DMI Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger and Representative Jerold Nadler aruged, the answer is for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to institute a similar program to what the Port of Los Angeles enacted. Los Angeles is requiring that the trucking companies only use employee-drivers, which, if the difference in wages between independent and employee drivers held true, would raise the wages of independent drivers by 20 percent. Los Angeles' program also replaces older, dirty trucks with newer models, reducing the health impacts on the communities that surround the ports.

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Posted at 10:16 AM, Mar 16, 2009 in Labor | Urban Affairs
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