Hundreds of Savannah port truck drivers and their families gathered at a Community/Driver Forum at Savannah’s Coastal Georgia Center on Saturday, June 1. The Community/ Driver Forum was entitled Making the Port Work for Us!
Port truck drivers testified before a panel of politicians, government officials, community activists, and faith leaders about the vital role they play in the regional economy and their ongoing struggle for fair working conditions. Members of the panel, which was being moderated by WTOC-TV reporter Don Logana, had the opportunity to react to the drivers’ testimonies.
For Savannah’s port truck drivers, wages are low, truck operations costs are high, and the hours are dangerously long. The mostly African-American workforce toils in sharecropper-like conditions cultivated by corporate retail interests that profit off international trade. Drivers are not paid enough to safely maintain the trucks, or to upgrade them to the cleanburning rigs asthma victims and environmentalists are demanding at ports around the country.
The forum allowed the port truck drivers to voice their complaints. Among the drivers were Lewis Grant, Mike Prowder, and Clyde Terry. There were several loud cheers and standing ovations as the truckers shared the same complaints. Fred Potter, International Vice President At- Large of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters , the Director of the Port Division and the principle officer of Teamster Local 469 in New Jersey was also in attendance. He helped lead a delegation of truckers in New Jersey and called for the teamsters to do more investigations of the trucking companies. The Obama administraton heard testimonies which lead to more investigations. But the result of the mid-term 2010 election, has delayed the process. The complaints ranged from: having to maintain equipment that they don’t own, can’t afford medical care for their families, being exposed to diesel exhaust which causes cancer, fuel price increases, truck parts, and much more.
Most of the port drivers serving Savannah are unlawfully classified as “independent contractors” by the trucking companies they work for. The reality of the situation is that they are treated like employees, but without any of the basic safety and other workplace protections properly classified employees receive. The problems facing Savannah’s port drivers are a national problem:
At the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, hundreds of “wage and hour” claims have been filed by independent contractors, and in Seattle, hundreds of drivers walked away from work for almost three weeks to demand safe working conditions and fair treatment from their employers.
The panel members listened for over an hour , then each of them made recommendations and comments on how Port of Savannah can include the drivers in the prosperity that the port provides to the region. The panel included Alderman Carolyn Bell; Larry Benjamin, Asst. District Director, U. S Dept. of Labor, Wage & Hour Division; Chester Dunham Savannah Chapter President A. Phillip Randolph Institute, John Finney, CEO, Economic Opportunity Authority; State Senator Lester Jackson; Al Scott, Chairman, Chatham County Commission and Pastor Ricardo Manuel of Second Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Thurmond Tillman, pastor of First African Baptist Church closed the meeting with prayer.