The Port of Savannah is the fourth largest and fastest growing container port in the U.S. In FY 2011, it handled more than 2.9 million TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units) in throughput, the highest volume in the Port of Savannah's history. The port serves approximately 21,000 companies in all 50 states, more than 75% of which are headquartered outside of Georgia. (Source: Savannah Chamber of Commerce) These companies are increasingly looking to Georgia – known for its low wages – to move their imports and exports. Container traffic at the Port of Savannah grew by 11% from 2008 to 2012. Port operations now account for 286,476 jobs statewide and income exceeding $14.9 billion annually. (Source: Georgia Ports Authority)
Trade-related prosperity has evaded one critical segment of the workforce: the port truck drivers who move the cargo off the docks and into the warehouses of multi-billion dollar corporations like Target, Ikea, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart, as well as the United States Military.
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 clean-burning rigs asthma victims and environmentalists are demanding at ports around the country.
Chatham County ranks third worst in the state for health risks from diesel exhaust, a level that accounts for an estimated 19 premature deaths, 361 asthma attacks and 2,109 days of work lost in the county each year. (Source: Savannah Now)
Most port drivers serving Savannah are considered “contract drivers,” meaning the trucking companies they work for unlawfully claim they are “independent contractors,” though few have the ability to be “independent” as required by law. Why? Perhaps the trucking companies that employ them are part of a national scheme to evade paying their fair share in taxes, to strip their port truck drivers of workplace health and safety and other employment protections, and to avoid taking responsibility for the maintenance of a fleet of dirty diesel trucks!
The problems facing Savannah’s port drivers are a national problem. Documented extensively in the landmark study, The Big Rig, the systematic misclassification of port drivers at every major port in the country impacts the economy, local port communities, and public health.
Savannah port truck drivers are demanding a voice to improve working conditions. Savannah's port truck contract drivers have appealed to local and national civil rights organizations, along with the nation’s largest union representing truck drivers – The International Brotherhood of Teamsters – to explore ways of improving working conditions and to secure a fair day's pay for a hard day's work.
By coming together, Savannah drivers will advocate for reforms and enforcement by public officials and demand fair treatment by their employers and other stakeholders at the port – most notably the big box retailers – so that they can improve their working conditions and operate safe, environmentally-friendly trucks.