Clean trucks, green jobs, and good jobs
by Shai Sachs, Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 08:04:14 PM EST
Yesterday Andrea Batista Schlesinger and Rep. Jerry Nadler co-authored a piece on cleaning up our ports in the Huffington Post. The piece, partially inspired by the Clean Trucks Program in Los Angeles, calls for a reversal of trucking deregulation in the early 80s which allows truck companies to classify their drivers as independent contractors.
That deregulation was a double-whammy hurting both the labor movement and the environment. On the one hand, allowing trucking companies to classify their drivers as independent contractors effectively prevents truckers from unionizing and negotiating for fair wages and working conditions. The Teamsters have been complaining about these unfair regulations for years; this argument is at the heart of their FedEx Watch campaign. On the other, it also allows the companies to force drivers to pay for their trucks; consequently, the trucks going through are ports tend to be poorly-maintained and not fuel efficient. And they tend to pollute the air, disproportionately hurting low-income communities that surround the ports. Schlesinger and Nadler are calling for New York to follow LA's lead and to implement a Clean Trucks Program of its own. They argue that regulations which compel trucking companies to hire their drivers, coupled with clean truck regulations, will benefit the environment while helping workers.
The push to clean up New York's port prompted Jason Lefkowitz at Change to Win to remind us that green jobs must also be good jobs. I think that is a key point as we move forward with the economic stimulus package - that greening the economy and making it equitable must go hand-in-hand. I discussed this a bit in last week's review of The Green Collar Economy; as Van Jones argues, environmentalists need the support and participation of low-income people in order to assemble a winning political coalition. But I think there's an essentialist argument to be made that's economic as well as political, and the cause of clean ports draws that argument into focus. In an economy organized around pollution, green goods and services cost more money. So long as the economy is inequitable, more and more people will be unable to afford to green themselves, their homes, and their workplaces, and environmental action will continue to be a boutique option for the rich. But, as wealth and the externalities of business are more fairly shared throughout society, transitioning to a green economy will become more and more accessible. Really, that's what the clean ports campaign is about - transferring the externality of trucking pollution to the trucking companies, where that burden properly belongs, in order to reduce the burden and raise the standard of living for truckers.