Friday, January 29, 2010

Drayage blues

The cycle in which port truck drivers are stuck:

Costs are externalized from the shipping industry onto port truck drivers and the state. The drivers earn very little income, and, as independent contractors, have very little bargaining power and no health insurance. To compete for business, they reduce their costs by whatever means possible, generally running very old, dirty trucks. The surrounding communities bear the brunt of the pollution from these trucks. The surrounding communities are, of course, low-income communities. It goes without saying that the greater metropolitan area (and ultimately the atmosphere of our planet) suffer for the pollution, as well.

The port - charged with the responsibility of being an economic engine for Washington state - fears losing business to other, cheaper, west coast ports if the cost of shipping goes up as a result of increased driver wages and/or truck regulation. Their proposed solution is to use public money to subsidize a clean trucks program that will be only marginally effective, at best, rather than put the costs on the international shippers via fees at the port terminals. So, WalMart (for example) doesn't pay the real costs of shipping, and continues to use its profits to expand its own business, making it that more capable of out-competing its competitors as well as its own labor.

Moreover, the argument that WalMart is creating jobs is a fallacy. They are edging out smaller stores and replacing those jobs with their jobs. Their full-time employees earn on average under $20,000/year and must spend 20% of that income on health care before their insurance kicks in. It is clear that their incomes and their jobs are not doing much for the dynamism of our economy. The GDP grows, but so does inequality. The power and the resources accumulate at the top.

Thoughts on this?

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