Sunday, December 23, 2018

Scott L. Cummings's "Blue and Green: The Drive for Justice at America’s Port"

Scott L. Cummings is Robert Henigson Professor of Legal Ethics at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blue and Green: The Drive for Justice at America's Port, and reported the following:
Blue and Green: The Drive for Justice at America’s Port is about the monumental effort by the labor and environmental movements—the blue and the green—to transform economic and environmental conditions at the massive and economically significant port complex in Los Angeles and Long Beach. At its core, the book is about how these social movements come together to make law regulating two of the ports’ most harmful externalities—air pollution and labor precarity. Their efforts and achievements teach important lessons about what it takes to win justice for disadvantaged workers and communities that form crucial links in the global supply chain.

Page 99 illuminates one-half of the book’s central focus—detailing the policy origins of the movement to “green” the ports. That page describes the genesis of what would become the cornerstone of a decade-long campaign to address a central cause of air pollution at the ports: the short-haul trucking industry. This is an industry is that is not widely known but forms the critical transit connection between the nearly one trillion dollars in cargo containers that move through the ports each year and their destinations—regional Amazon warehouses, retailers like Walmart and Target, and ultimately to customer doorsteps. The legal puzzle the book explores is how port truck drivers, once heavily unionized, became exploited low-wage workers, treated as independent contractors responsible for all the costs of operating expensive trucks. As a result of this treatment, drivers frequently earned less than the minimum wage and were unable to purchase and maintain low-emissions vehicles. They were both victims of labor abuse and the source of significant port pollution.

Page 99 discusses the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissions’ initial step to reduce air pollution—while winning the support of logistic industry players, particularly powerful retail shippers—through a comprehensive joint policy known as the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP):
Both commissions were in a position to facilitate growth plans provided that they complied with environmental goals. It was ultimately the ports’ power to reject or delay expansion that provided the leverage needed to get industry buy-in. And although shippers and carriers had other ports they could use, those ports were generally not as attractive because of preexisting infrastructure investments in Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as access to the lucrative regional market. It was in this context that the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissions developed the outlines of CAAP….
This is a pivotal moment since it creates the essential political opportunity for a broader campaign to address the twin problems of air pollution and labor precarity in a comprehensive way. The rest of the book explores how this environmental mandate was transformed into a vehicle for challenging the drivers’ independent contractor status and the epic political and legal fight that ensued—one that ultimately winds through the United States Supreme Court and back to the front lines of port organizing, where there are now six labor contracts in an industry that previously had none in over forty years. How this occurred—and whether it can be sustained—has profound consequences for the future role of gig workers in the global economy.
Learn more about Blue and Green at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue