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Ben Speight calls this an “intentional misclassification” that allows trucking companies to avoid providing basic benefits or overtime — and he intends to help Carol and her fellow truckers fix it. Speight is the organizing director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 728 and has helped establish Stand Up for Savannah, a coalition of port truckers, labor activists and Savannah citizens. Their aim is a place at the Port of Savannah feasting table with the longshoremen, the stevedores, the tugboat captains and the mechanics who are guaranteed a certain standard of living through their unions. Yes, the truckers want a union. That may conjure up mouthbreathers making six figures a year stapling upholstery on Chryslers, but whatever you think, unions are still the reason we get a day off and don’t have to breathe asbestos at work. Don’t the truckers deserve the same as their other port brethren? “The port drivers are essentially sharecroppers on wheels,” explains Speight. “They’re made to sign strict contracts. They get paid by the load no matter how long they wait in line. Some have to sign lease agreements

and they don’t even own the trucks. If they violate a rule, they’re fired. “If that’s not an employer/employee relationship, there is none.” Carol and her fellow organizers — including trucking veterans John E. Jackson, Jim Myrick and Teamster Jerome Irwin — met with Speight, local leaders and 300 other port truckers at the Coastal Georgia Center on June 1. Together they represent a lot of power: Should they ever decide to idle their engines, the port would come to a standstill. Since the trucking industry was deregulated in 1980, port drivers everywhere have dealt with everworsening conditions that keep them poor, overworking and unprotected. Author and former trucker Dr. Michael Belzer explored this in his 2000 book Sweatshops on Wheels. The recent 46-page Big Rig study sponsored by the National Employment Law Project and the Change to Win Foundation documents third-world industrial abominations, including increased respiratory distress from steeping in diesel fumes all day. Yet repeated attempts to unionize port truckers over the last 30 years have failed. In fact, the last time

Savannah’s container haulers met to discuss unsatisfactory conditions and compensation, the Federal Trade Commission sent out subpoenas and accused them of “anti-trust activity.” But anyone who’s heard of Jimmy Hoffa knows the Teamsters aren’t the submissive types. Organization efforts at the Port of Savannah parallel those in Seattle, New Jersey and especially Los Angeles, where port truckers have filed a lawsuit against Harbor Express, Inc., one of the largest trucking companies in California. “This is an across-the-board push,” says Speight. “These drivers are the invisible muscle of the port. They deserve equality and social justice. This is about fundamental human rights.” He points out that while we all love economic development, the truckers’ sharecropper structure only depresses the local economy. As Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed laud the economic delights of a deeper port (with Georgia taxpayers hauling the $652 million-and-growing tab that the Obama administration has kicked to the curb), you can add port truckers to the long list of Savannahians who will see little if any

benefit from the increased profits. (Speaking of SHEP, last month in South Carolina, environmental groups settled their lawsuits against the Georgia Ports Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers in exchange for $33.5 million in protective measures for the river and surrounding wetlands — as long as the Corps can provide proof that the Speece cones slated to reoxygenate the river will actually work. There currently is no such proof, as the technology has never been used on a river system of this scale. Sure, there will be tests — after dredging has already begun in the outer harbor. Anyone else call that Insane Troll Logic?) Dropping me off at the Circle K on her way to pick up another load of what might be tile for Home Depot or plastic water guns for Dollar General, Carol shrugs when I ask if she’s afraid that she’ll lose her job over speaking out about unfair working conditions. “I’m doing this for my kids, for future generations of truckers,” she says. “It’s bad now, and it will only get worse. I have to take a stand.” As I pick my way through the gas station trying to avoid being flattened by a semi, I catch myself thinking about all the things I need to buy, like next year’s school uniforms and one of those magic stretchy hoses for the garden and holy humid hell, some freakin’ ice cube trays. It occurs to me that Carol might have trucked any of those items. Before that, they were packed on a ship halfway around the world after being made in a cramped factory by people whose names I’ll never know. It makes them seem far more valuable than the plasticky crap they ultimately are. cs

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L: Carol Cauley with fellow trucker John E. Jackson Below: Containers at the Port of Savannah

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Connect Savannah 06-19-2013 issue  

This weekend, it’s Savannah’s first three-day jam band festival. Find out about the Summer Solstice Festival, and converse with Zach Deputy,...

Connect Savannah 06-19-2013 issue  

This weekend, it’s Savannah’s first three-day jam band festival. Find out about the Summer Solstice Festival, and converse with Zach Deputy,...