Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Savannah port truck driver grosses $60K, keeps $22K

Unorganized port truck drivers work hard for low pay, hustling 16 hours a day for trucking companies that cheat them. 

Organized port truck drivers earn more money, get paid for overtime, have affordable health benefits and job security.

Our brothers and sisters at Local 728 in Atlanta are working to organize the unorganized port drivers at the Port of Savannah, the fourth largest port in the U.S. Recently, a reporter rode along with Savannah driver Carol Cauley. Here is the reporter's account, from Connect Savannah:
Carol swings in the cab like the pro she is: She's been driving a truck on and off for eight years for C and G Trucking out of Chicago, one of the 150 trucking companies who do business inside the port. But in spite of her experience, she's making less and less money. 
"This is definitely a hustle," she sighs, gracefully swinging the 18-wheeler down Dean Forest Road near the port gates. "Cost of gas is going up, cost of food is going up. The only thing not going up is our rates." 
As an independent contractor, Carol can earn up to $78 for a round-trip run that takes her inside the port, where she picks up a shipping container, then back outside to one of several warehouses along the Savannah River. Depending on how much work there is, she can do this three or four times a day, which can take up to 16 hours as she waits in long loading lines. Surrounded by A/C and a radio, this might seem like a pretty good gig. 
Except that she has an endless list of payouts: Gas (you grousing that minivan is expensive to fill? Try a 100-gallon tank times $3.50 a gallon.) Monthly truck loan payments. Vehicle maintenance and repairs. Insurance. Tires (all 18 of them!) She also has to pay for her company phone. 
Carol, like other port truckers, may gross $60,000 a year but nets less than $22,000 — the poverty line for a family of four. She and most of her fellow drivers skip health insurance and dental visits. As more trucking companies come to Savannah to compete for business, management continues to undercut their fees, passing on the nickel-and-diming to their drivers. 
"We're responsible for every little expense," she sighs. "We can't even afford to buy the stuff we're hauling around every day. Guys are having strokes in their trucks stressing out about it." 
Here's the injustice: While the port truckers are considered "individual small business owners," the companies they drive for maintain complete control over them: They're not allowed to drive for anyone else and must clock in and out, just like employees protected under U.S. labor laws. Yet it remains awfully convenient to call them otherwise.
Last year, Local 848 successfully organized 65 port drivers at the Port of Los Angeles. For those drivers, who work for Australia-based Toll Holdings, joining the Teamsters made the difference between living comfortably and living in poverty. Local 728 hopes to make the same difference for the drivers in Savannah.