Envisioning a sustainable logistics system

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Photo SB Airport Communities: Inland Empire labor and community partners are working to transform a logistics industry that has only produced notoriously grueling low-paying jobs and diesel pollution. Assembly Bill 841 could bring EV infrastructure and good-paying jobs to areas that need it most.
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By Sherheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, Ricardo Cisneros, executive secretary-treasurer of the Inland Empire Labor Council and Randy Korgan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 1932. 

The warehousing and logistics sector is a dominant part of Southern California’s economy and also a large and problematic producer of air and climate pollution and low quality jobs. Since shelter-in-place, e-commerce and its associated activity has seen rapid growth, with hiring sprees and the proliferation of new warehouses in our communities. 

The industry is booming, but what’s good for the industry is not what’s good for workers or surrounding communities. Warehousing jobs are notoriously grueling and low-paying. Employee misclassification is rampant with global multi-billion dollar companies passing risks and costs onto independent truck drivers. And diesel pollution chokes surrounding communities exacerbating health vulnerabilities.  

In recent years, labor and community partners have been working to envision what the logistics sector could look like if we had good working conditions and sustainable technologies. We advocated for a strong ACT Rule, and we applaud CARB’s new rules to clean up diesel pollution at ports. We urged the legislature to pass AB 841, which creates good family-sustaining jobs in the accelerated build out of charging stations. Now we are calling for Gov. Newsom to sign this bill and help us lower transportation emissions — particularly in our communities hit longest and hardest by transportation pollution.

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To avert lingering environmental injustices, we must invest in a healthy economic recovery – one that prioritizes underserved communities, reduces pollution, and grows good jobs. We can’t slow the growth of the logistics and warehousing industry, but we can make sure that it is cleaner, safer, and better. 

A new report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, “Putting California on the High Road,” lays out how we get there. At the state level, California can establish sustainable and equitable standards for our economy. AB 841 presents an immediate opportunity to do this. The bill specifies that new vehicle charging infrastructure will be constructed by workers certified by the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Program (EVITP) and that 35 percent of the infrastructure investments will go to underserved communities. AB 841 presents an immediate opportunity to act on UC Berkeley report’s recommendations and support high-road jobs, particularly in underserved areas. 

Another opportunity is to invest in High Road Training Partnerships in the logistics industry. With limited career pathways for workers in the warehousing and logistics sector, the state can look to support good employers like UPS who invest in their employees and their skill development. The state can procure goods and services from companies that commit to strong protections for the environment and their employees rather than those companies that enter Black and Brown communities in California looking to extract profits at the expense of workers and their communities.

These programs, that invest in local communities, are what is needed in the Inland Empire where in the City of San Bernardino alone four new massive warehouses are going up. We have been working to demand a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) from Amazon at the Eastgate Air Freight Terminal, a massive project on public property in San Bernardino, the poorest city in the state. A strong CBA can offer greater opportunities for local hiring, living wages, job training, non-discrimination inforcement, and will consider environmental impacts for residents. 

It is unacceptable for residents to suffer from the increased air pollution that will come from being located on the flight paths and truck routes of this project. Community residents deserve to be able to hold accountable the corporations that reap millions of dollars in profit off of their hard work and they should have the right to more dignified and stable working conditions to better uplift and support their families. We know that a collective push for these agreements and partnerships is an important way to maximize these local returns.  

Massive projects, subsidized indirectly by public institutions like the Inland Valley Development Authority and San Bernardino Airport Authority, must provide good jobs to the communities where they are located. Among the provisions that CBAs can ensure are opportunities for local workers to be hired and receive living wages and benefits, more access to affordable housing, and funding for community services. The City of Oakland agreed to such terms in a CBA signed with the logistics firm Prologis, and the residents of San Bernardino and other communities deserve the same.  

Efforts like High Road Training Partnerships and Community Benefits Agreements can complement the Advanced Clean Truck rule, the freight and ports pollution rule, and the EV charging infrastructure deployment envisioned by AB 841 to create good jobs and economic equity and tamp down pollution in our communities. Through efforts like these, it is within the power of our state and local officials to ensure that California’s recovery supports economic equity and carbon neutrality. 

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