In 1996 I began working at the Parent Center of Wilmington Middle School. I quickly learned how students suffer from asthma, respiratory deficiencies, malnourishment, cancer and autism. Many of these poor health conditions are linked to the pollution and poverty of the area.
I decided to join the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports, hoping to help clean our air and reduce disease in my community. Over the past several years we have made huge progress. I believe these accomplishments were possible because so many of us came together, from residents and community-based organizations to port truck drivers, lawmakers and unions. Although it is a cliché to say there is strength in unity, in this case it was true.
Today we are fighting to change the conditions of port truck drivers – and we are still unified.
We believe that everyone who works should be valued by their employer. Port trucking companies, however, take advantage of drivers and deny them the rights that other workers have. They are only concerned with their bottom line and how the company will benefit.
These companies must be supervised by labor, human rights and environmental agencies. Right now they do whatever they want in our communities. They park their trucks without complying with city regulations. They drive through streets that are not designated truck routes, which puts residents in danger. It is not the drivers who are at fault for these violations – they are following company orders.
Some port truck drivers have told me they fear losing their jobs because they have been threatened if they question or don’t want to follow the instructions given by the company. Drivers do not have a say and even less of a vote when it comes to the workplace. Even so, they have stood up to demand their rights.
Things are starting to change, however, because of the courage of the drivers. Many of us are supporting them through protests, petition drives and phone banks – and we will continue to do so until drivers see the full benefits of clean trucks. We want this not only for the drivers but for the families of Wilmington. We know that educating our community about the fight at the ports will result in improvements in our community and our environment, and then we will have good green jobs that we can be proud of in our harbor area neighborhoods.
(Teresa Varejo is a parent resource liaison at the Wilmington Middle School in Wilmington, CA.)