Notice to Vacate from City of Ithaca

27 Dec

IMPORTANT  NOTICE  TO  OCCUPY  ITHACA, THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF ITHACA, DEWITT PARK CAMPERS  &  OTHERS


From the City of Ithaca


This NOTICE is intended for anyone who is camping or living in DeWitt Park, or who remains in the Park during its closed hours (between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am).  This NOTICE was mailed and emailed to the contact persons identified by the Occupy Ithaca group, and is being delivered to the Occupy Ithaca encampment on December 27, 2011.

An application from Occupy Ithaca, requesting permission to use DeWitt Park for its activities, was denied by the Superintendent of Public Works on December 9th, and Occupy Ithaca was notified that it must remove tents from the Park. The denial was appealed, and the Board of Public Works will decide on December 28th, whether to reverse the Superintendent’s decision.

This kind of use of City parkland or other public property is not allowed without permission from the City.  Under New York State law, parkland must be available to all of the public, for recreational purposes.  Ongoing occupation of the Park with tents interferes with the public’s right to enjoy all of the Park.

If the Board of Public Works does not reverse the Superintendent’s denial of Occupy Ithaca’s request to set up and maintain tents and other structures in DeWitt Park, on a continuing, indefinite basis, then such use must be discontinued by 10:00 pm on December 28, 2011, and cannot be re-established in the future, without a prior permit.

Any camping or personal items that are not removed from the Park by 10:00 pm on December 28, 2011, are subject to removal and disposal by the City.

Any person who maintains a tent or camps in DeWitt Park after10:00 pm on December 28, 2011, or who is in the Park during its closed hours, will be subject to ticketing and/or arrest.

=============================================
If you need shelter or other personal assistance, the following agencies may be helpful to you:

  • Red Cross Friendship Center


618 W. State/MLK, Jr. Street, Ithaca     273-6684

  • Tompkins County Department of Social Services


320 W. State/MLK, Jr. Street, Ithaca     274-5644

  • Loaves and Fishes (Free Meals & Advocacy)


210 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca    272-5457

  • SPCS Crisisline (24-Hour Free & Confidential Support)


272-1616 or 1-800-273-TALK           Call anytime

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Latest Statement from City to Occupy Ithaca

23 Dec

Dear Josh, Joy, Philip, Theo, and Tad:

By my December 20, 2011 email to the above listed recipients, I asked that Occupy Ithaca indicate by 5:00 pm today (Friday) whether the group intended to work with City staff to come to an agreement for the timely relocation of tents from DeWitt Park (to another City-owned or City-controlled site, that is not parkland). At the Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday, Josh stated that the General Assembly had agreed by consensus to move its tents to the land offered by the Baptist Church.
As of yet, we have not heard from the Occupy group that it intends to pursue an agreement to use other City-owned lands and have not observed any relocation of the tents to private land (other than a email message received from Tad Cook at approximately 4:00 pm, indicating that “individuals in Occupy Ithaca” had permission to “look into” other City-owned sites, but that no decision to relocate had been made – text of message copied below). We also told you that serious negotiation of an alternative City-owned site for your activities would require daily dialogue between City officials and authorized representatives of Occupy Ithaca. The absence of such ongoing negotiation on your part means we must conclude that the Occupy Ithaca group has not maintained the level of engagement (with City representatives) or reached the level of definitive progress we had said was necessary to negotiate a timely relocation to a different City-owned site. Meanwhile, the Occupy encampment in DeWitt Park continues without a permit and in violation of City and State law.
As you likely know, the Board of Public Works will reconvene on Wednesday, December 28th, at 4:45 pm, to make a decision on Occupy Ithaca’s appeal of the Superintendent’s denial of your permit application.
Please be advised that unless the Board of Public Works votes next Wednesday to reverse the Superintendent’s decision denying your permit, the City intends to enforce all laws and rules applicable to the Park and Occupy Ithaca’s activities, thereafter.
If you choose to relocate the tents, you may of course still use the Park for lawful free speech purposes, provided that such actions do not interfere on a continuing basis with use of the Park by others for its traditional recreational purposes. Assemblies of more than 50 persons require an advance permit. The City also requires that you secure an advance permit for any use of a park between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am, or for placement of tables, displays, tents or other such stationary objects in a park or other City-owned public space.
Thank you for your attention to this email,
Krin

Appeal of the City of Ithaca’s denial of Occupy Ithaca’s Request to Use City Park

22 Dec
The City of Ithaca’s denial of Occupy Ithaca’s Request to Use City Park for the use of Dewitt Park by Occupy Ithaca was arbitrary and capricious, and deprived the applicant of its rights to due process and equal protection under the Constitution of the United States.
The City failed to follow its well-established procedures for dealing with an application of the type submitted by Occupy Ithaca. When an applicant submits paperwork which requires the approval of three or more City agencies, a City of Ithaca practice, policy, procedure, and/or promulgated rules and regulations specify that an events team shall be assembled to liaise and work with the applicant.
Occupy Ithaca’s application to use a City Park required the approval of the City of Ithaca’s Superintendent of Public Works, and, according to the denial letter, the City of Ithaca Building Department and the City of Ithaca Fire Department. Thus, the City of Ithaca should have assembled an events team to process the permit, and not left it to just the Superintendent of Public Works to decide all by himself. By having just the Superintendent of Public Works rule on the permit, the City of Ithaca deprived the applicant of its rights to due process and equal protection under the law as guaranteed by Constitution of the United States.
When reviewing event permits the City of Ithaca’s practice, policy, procedure, and/or promulgated rules is not to simply accept or reject applications. With other applications, the city staff works with the applicant and helps the applicant adjust their event so that it does not overly conflict with the needs of other citizens. This is especially the case with a special events team project. While the events teams have helped an applicant modify their events, we are not aware of a single instance where a permit was denied. Instead, City staff offers alternatives to problematic aspects of the event. It is unprecedented for the City of Ithaca to simply deny an application before trying to work with the applicant.
Specific responses to the specific points in the denial letter:
  1. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “Allowing tents to be in place for extended time would tend to interfere with the public’s right to use of a substantial portion of the park, …”. This language is far to vague for anyone to understand what is acceptable and what is not. The city is not stating that the intended use will interfere with the public’s right to use the park, but that “would tend “, in other words, “it might” stretch into such a situation. The city needs to judge the application on what the applicant intends on doing, not on what if might become. If the city has concerns on a direction the event might take it should stipulate in the permit that such a direction is impermissible.
    Further, the term “substantial” is not defined. How much of the park could the encampment occupy before it became “substantial?” This answer has to be based on some policy, law or rule, not the arbitrary opinion of the Superintendent of Public Works and/or the City Attorney.
    Nor, given the fact that the public is openly invited to be a part of all aspects of Occupy Ithaca’s event, does the city specify what specific use the park the public is not being allowed to use. The deed of the Dewitt Park to the City of Ithaca requires that the park be open as “a public walk and promenade.” At all times the walkways are clear for public use, so the main use of the park is not in any way impeded. Since the main use of Dewitt park remains unchanged, it is unclear the public’s use of the park has been “substantially” altered.
  1. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “ Keeping tents in place and heavy use thus engendered is damaging the lawn.” Anyone who is familiar with the area in question is well aware that there is virtually no grass in the area where the tents are; which is why the applicant chose that spot for the tents in the first place. Further, the city could simply require that the tents be moved every few days to allow whatever grass is actually growing access to sunlight. These issues are typically dealt with by modifying the permit application, not for denying a permit.
  2. The City of Ithaca denial letter argues in point #1 that the public is being deprived us use of the park by this activity and in point #2 that the park is not capable of handing the number of people that the Occupy Ithaca event would bring to the park in point #2. The City of Ithaca needs to decide whether its decision to deny is based on too much use of the park or not enough.
  3. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “Park use is not allowed between 10 pm and 5 am (without a special waver).” The applicant is well aware of this rule, and specifically asked for such a waver in the permit application: “We request to exercise our first amendment rights after 10 pm -waiver of park curfew”. The city has granted such a waver in the past to Ithaca Festival, allowing both tents and Ithaca Festival personnel in the park throughout the night. The City of Ithaca simply reiterated the rule, including a statement that wavers are granted to the rule, without giving any specific reasons why it was not granting Occupy Ithaca a waver. The City of Ithaca denial letter does not indicate that the City of Ithaca’s Superintendent of Public Works even considered the waiver request at all.
  4. The City of Ithaca denial letter asserts that “Chapter 336 requires any permittee to provide proof of liability insurance”. Actually, the code states:
    (1) General liability insurance shall be required in an amount to be determined by the issuing agent for activities that include any of the following:
(a) A risk that participants or attendees could be injured based on the nature of the activity.
(b) Sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages.
(c) Potential damage to City property.”
The city failed to show that any of these points apply to the applicant. It cannot assert the need for insurance without showing that the event will fall into one of the three above categories and specifying what insurance is necessary to indemnify the city.
  1. The City of Ithaca denial letter asserts that “Camping is not a permitted use in the city, per zoning ordinance.” The city failed to cite specifically in city code where camping is prohibited in the city. “Tents” are not specifically mentioned anywhere in the zoning law. The only reference to “camping” is to “camping trailers,” a use the applicant has not asked for. It is not a prohibited use under chapter “336 Use of parks; permit application; general liability insurance,” making it unclear where this “park specific, no camping” rule comes from or if it actually exist at all. Further, the city knowingly allows camping within the city. City officials are well aware that there is an ongoing campground behind Wegmans, commonly known as “the jungle”. Additionally, City officials are aware that twice a year people set up tents on city sidewalks on Esty Street to be in line for for the Friends of the Library Sale. Not only has the city failed to cite a specific prohibition it also fails to explain why it is selectively enforcing the “prohibition” on camping to Occupy Ithaca and not these other groups.
  2. The City of Ithaca denial letter asserts that “Residential facilitates are not a permitted use in parks.” First, it is unclear where this prohibition is, as Chapter 336 is silent about residential facilities. Second, the application did not request residential facilities.
  3. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “Residential use requires appropriate sanitary facilities.” All events that have large numbers of people over extended time periods require sanitary facilities. No other group’s permit application has been denied as a result of this need. The City of Ithaca has made no effort, as it has with other applicants, to determine what faculties are necessary. Currently, nearby residents have opened their buildings so people can use their bathrooms. Occupy Ithaca is interested in establishing a location for a port-a-potty and is willing to work with the city on a suitable location. Questions such as this one is why the city assembles and event team, to gather the knowledge of different departments to figure out the best solutions to such problems.
  4. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “Large tents require building or fire department approval.” Again, this is not a reason to turn down this application. When other applications are deemed to need multiple permits, a special team is established to deal with all the permits together. The City of Ithaca needs to treat Occupy Ithaca’s permit the same way it treats other applications.
  5. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “Allowing the requested ‘occupation,’ especially for an extended period of time, is not consistent with maintaining the park as primarily ‘a contemplative space in keeping with [the park’s] function as a veterans’ memorial and a common space for several churches.’ and as a ‘quiet use park.’” The city has no established criteria to determine if an event is consistent with maintaining the park as primarily ‘a contemplative space. The city inconsistently applies this standard from one group to the next. Thus, Ithaca Festival is allowed to set up a stage with a sound system and the city determined that it was consistent with a “quiet use park”. Yet when Occupy Ithaca requests a permit for an event with no sound system, it is told that it is inconsistent.
  6. The City of Ithaca denial letter asserts that “City has not allowed individuals or groups to be in the Park during closed hours.” This statement is simply false. The City has allowed Ithaca Festival access to the park 24 hours a day when it is holding an event in the park.
  7. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “City has not allowed tents to be maintained in the Park, and has only allowed canopies for more than two or three days (and only as part of a participatory festival).” Again, the city has no criteria for what is acceptable use or not. The two or three day limit only appeared when Occupy Ithaca made its application. The city cannot create a rule just because it does not like an application (Assuming this rule actually exists at all, see #6 above).
  8. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “Parkland continuously ‘occupied’ by a certain group (or physical structures), for non-recreational purposes and for weeks, prevents or interferes with its use by the public at large.” The city’s statement here implies that if the application were for recreations purposes, it would be ok. The city is implicitly stating that the fact that the applicant wants to exercise their first amendment rights to free speech is a reason for the denial, if they were only asking for a permit to recreate, their application would be fine.
    Further, other cities in New York have had no such problems issuing permits to similar occupation groups. Both the City of Rochester and the City of Buffalo have permits for Occupy groups to use parkland within their boundaries for long term occupation. Both permits have specific language that requires the group to keep space open for the public at large. The Buffalo permit further requires the Occupy group to vacate the park when another groups wants to hold a larger event in the park. City of Ithaca officials are well aware of these other agreements.
  9. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “I am told that there have been repeated instances of loud drumming at the encampment indicating an inability on the part of the applicant to comply with the ‘quiet use’ expectation.” There was one incident of drumming in the middle of the afternoon. When the applicant was told this was a problem, the drumming ceased, and has not been repeated. Again, the permit could have specifically stated that drumming is not allowed, if such activity was of concern to the City of Ithaca officals.
  10. The City of Ithaca denial letter states that “I note for the record that neither permit application was submitted in advance of your group’s commencement of use of the park (for tents, etc), which is a requirement.” We note for the record, that this was understood by the City of Ithaca when the Mayor specifically asked the group to fill out an application. To add this as a grounds for denial indicates that the City of Ithaca officials did not process this application in good faith.
We Herby ask the Board of Public Works to overturn William J. Gray’s denial of our application. We further ask that the Board to direct the City of Ithaca to treat Occupy Ithaca as it does other applicants, and convene a Special Events Task Force to work with the Occupy Ithaca organization to create an event that conveys Occupy Ithaca’s message to the public it wishes to reach.
—————————
Phillip Price (Occupy Ithaca)

December 21 Statement to Ithaca Board of Public Works

21 Dec

Today, the Ithaca Occupation is celebrating our 1-month anniversary.  A small but dedicated group has slept in the park, night after night despite cold and rain.  We have fed the hungry and housed the homeless.  We have even assisted one of our members to find employment.  We have spent the days talking with neighbors, supporters, curiosity seekers and critics alike and raised issues of extreme importance with our words and our signs, issues that affect us on both a local and national level. We have had regular General Assemblies to plan our actions by consensus.  We have staged teach-ins to educate each other on important issues; we have staged rallies and direct actions.  We have demonstrated our ongoing opposition the wars.  We shined light on American Consumerism on Black Friday, We spoke out against Fracking in Binghamton, Ithaca and Enfield.  We raised awareness about provisions in the NDAA which would suspend our right to detention without trial and allow the military to declare the US homeland a battlefield and we have celebrated Bill of Rights Day at a time when we may be about to loose those time honored rights.  We have attended actions and paid visits to many other occupations around the state and across the country.   These dedicated individuals should be commended for their dedication and willingness to set aside personal comfort for the greater good of our community and our country.

For one month we have communicated with our neighbors and the community at large.  We have taken criticisms to heart and are evolving our strategies and methods in order to better serve our community.  We have negotiated with the City of Ithaca, in an effort to legally legitimize our 24-hour protest, have attended many meetings and attempted to work within the bureaucratic system to try to find common ground with the city.  This has been a time consuming and at times very frustrating process for both sides.   Both sides have continued to express a desire for cooperation and by our actions we seek to honor that sentiment.  We especially look forward to working with the next administration to begin addressing specific issues of importance to the 99%.  We would like to thank all of the dedicated individuals within city government who have spoken on our behalf and tried to help us navigate through this process.  We would also like to thank our many supporters throughout the community who took the time to make a phone call, attend a meeting or send a letter to the City expressing support for our continued occupation.

If we are to succeed as a movement we must continue to push the envelope, while also being flexible and find middle ground when it results in the greatest good.  Ithaca is a community that prides itself on its progressive values and we hope that we can establish a model here where this movement, local government and the community come together and work toward common goals.   The horizontal nature of our movement makes it impossible for us to appoint one person or small group to negotiate and make decisions on our behalf. We invite the City to bring ideas, concerns and proposals to our regular General Assembly meetings and make all proposals available to the public.

With all this in mind, we would like to announce that through consensus, Occupy Ithaca has decided to relocate the tenting portion of our occupation to the property of the Baptist Church adjacent to the park.  We will continue to maintain our 24-hour free speech zone and information area within Shawn Greenwood Park, which is crucial for maintaining our 1st amendment rights and to maintaining our outreach activities.  We are taking this action first and foremost out of respect to our neighbors especially the Sons of Union Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America who maintain the Veterans Memorial and the 1st Presbyterian Church.   Any further questions or concerns should be addressed to our General Assembly tomorrow night at 6pm.

Request for cooperation from City of Ithaca to Occupy Ithaca

21 Dec
Thank you for the invitation to your General Assembly meeting today. I think that Seph, Jennifer and I all found it interesting and helpful.
As I noted at that meeting, your group’s appeal of the Superintendent’s denial of your permit application will be heard at the Board of Public Works meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday), starting at 4:45 pm, on the third floor of City Hall.  The item did not appear on the pre-published BPW agenda because you had previously asked the Board not to consider your appeal, and it was not known whether you still wished to pursue it.  I understand that Occupy Ithaca has urged its supporters to rally tomorrow and to march to City Hall to attend the meeting.  Please be advised that the Board has other business to attend to as well and it is possible that the amount of time available for public statements for and against may be limited.
My other purpose in sending this email is in response to a suggestion posed after the General Assembly meeting. I understood that some participants at the meeting were not aware that the City had suggested several possible (non-parkland) relocation sites for Occupy Ithaca’s activities. I request that this email be distributed widely by you, in an attempt to inform your participants and supporters of the City’s proposals, before your General Assembly meeting on Thursday evening.
The City cannot agree to tenting at or overnight use of DeWitt Park or any City parkland. Individuals are free to carry on Occupy protest activities during the hours of 5 am to 10 pm. These protest activities can include tabling, assembling, meeting, and speaking out, and might even include the erection of a symbolic tent (if a permit is secured for it), but any such tent would have to be disassembled (or moved to non-parkland) during the park’s closed hours.
If the Occupy encampment moves to private or, with a permit or license, to City-owned land that is not parkland, the City could allow symbolic tents overnight (but not living in the tents) and there would be no curfew issue.
An agreement between Occupy Ithaca and the City would be in the form of a license, an agreement which the City enters into regularly, permitting use of the designated land for a specified period of time, and renewable by the BPW. The City would require conditions such as no fires on the premises, provisions for trash removal, no disruption of streets or sidewalks, and safety/sanitary concerns of this nature.
The relocation sites proposed by the City are as follows:
–  Triangle of land bordered by Six Mile Creek, Clinton Street, Cayuga Street garage, and the library. This land is owned by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and under the control of the City.  The Cayuga Green company has an option to purchase the land, for development of apartments.  That option expires on December 31, 2011, but is likely to be extended by the City until June 30, 2012. Until the option is exercised (not likely in the next few months, at least), the land remains under City control and can be used as the City decides.

–  Area where N. Titus Avenue dead ends into a turn-around space, adjacent to W. Clinton Street and Route 13, just west of the CVS pharmacy.

–  Parcel of City-owned land adjacent to one of the entrance drives to the WalMart-Lowe’s complex, but it is the southerly entrance, not the northerly one (which is known as Fairgrounds Memorial Parkway).  This southerly entrance from Route 13 is also at a traffic light, and approximately across from the Friendly’s restaurant (as well as a small brick structure that is a former pumphouse – also owned by the City).  The small parcel of land on which the pumphouse is located could also be licensed to your group.

If your appeal is denied on Wednesday night at the BPW meeting, we understand that you have scheduled a General Assembly meeting for Thursday night. We will need to hear from Occupy members whether or not the group is willing to pursue an agreement concerning one of the proposed relocation spots (or an alternative location acceptable to the City) by 5:00 pm on Friday December 23, 2011.
For negotiations between the City and your group to succeed, both sides will need to commit to a continuous, ongoing dialogue (probably primarily by phone and email), up to the point that an agreement is reached.  We are requesting that Occupy Ithaca commit to such a dialogue and identify the person who will be the negotiator for your group.
Thank you for your attention and consideration of this matter,
Krin Flaherty
Assistant City Attorney

ISSUE #2 will be out this week!

21 Dec

AN OPEN LETTER FROM AMERICA’S PORT TRUCK DRIVERS ON OCCUPY THE PORTS

15 Dec

We are the front-line workers who haul container rigs full of imported and exported goods to and from the docks and warehouses every day.

We have been elected by committees of our co-workers at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York and New Jersey to tell our collective story. We have accepted the honor to speak up for our brothers and sisters about our working conditions despite the risk of retaliation we face. One of us is a mother, the rest of us fathers. Between the five of us we have 11children and one more baby on the way. We have a combined 46 years of experience driving cargo from our shores for America’s stores.

We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible.

Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?

We love being behind the wheel. We are proud of the work we do to keep America’s economy moving. But we feel humiliated when we receive paychecks that suggest we work part time at a fast-food counter. Especially when we work an average of 60 or more hours a week, away from our families.

There is so much at stake in our industry. It is one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations. We don’t think truck driving should be a dead-end road in America. It should be a good job with a middle-class paycheck like it used to be decades ago.

We desperately want to drive clean and safe vehicles. Rigs that do not fill our lungs with deadly toxins, or dirty the air in the communities we haul in.

Poverty and pollution are like a plague at the ports. Our economic conditions are what led to the environmental crisis.

You, the public, have paid a severe price along with us.

Why? Just like Wall Street doesn’t have to abide by rules, our industry isn’t bound to regulation. So the market is run by con artists. The companies we work for call us independent contractors, as if we were our own bosses, but they boss us around. We receive Third World wages and drive sweatshops on wheels. We cannot negotiate our rates. (Usually we are not allowed to even see them.) We are paid by the load, not by the hour. So when we sit in those long lines at the terminals, or if we are stuck in traffic, we become volunteers who basically donate our time to the trucking and shipping companies. That’s the nice way to put it. We have all heard the words “modern-day slaves” at the lunch stops.

There are no restrooms for drivers. We keep empty bottles in our cabs. Plastic bags too. We feel like dogs. An Oakland driver was recently banned from the terminal because he was spied relieving himself behind a container. Neither the port, nor the terminal operators or anyone in the industry thinks it is their responsibility to provide humane and hygienic facilities for us. It is absolutely horrible for drivers who are women, who risk infection when they try to hold it until they can find a place to go.

The companies demand we cut corners to compete. It makes our roads less safe. When we try to blow the whistle about skipped inspections, faulty equipment, or falsified logs, then we are “starved out.” That means we are either fired outright, or more likely, we never get dispatched to haul a load again.

It may be difficult to comprehend the complex issues and nature of our employment. For us too. When businesses disguise workers like us as contractors, the Department of Labor calls it misclassification. We call it illegal. Those who profit from global trade and goods movement are getting away with it because everyone is doing it. One journalist took the time to talk to us this week and she explains it very well to outsiders. We hope you will read the enclosed article “How Goldman Sachs and Other Companies Exploit Port Truck Drivers.”

But the short answer to the question: Why are companies like SSA Marine, the Seattle-based global terminal operator that runs one of the West Coast’s major trucking carriers, Shippers’ Transport Express, doing this? Why would mega-rich Maersk, a huge Danish shipping and trucking conglomerate that wants  to drill for more oil with Exxon Mobil in the Gulf Coast conduct business this way too?

To cheat on taxes, drive down business costs, and deny us the right to belong to a union, that’s why.

The typical arrangement works like this: Everything comes out of our pockets or is deducted from our paychecks. The truck or lease, fuel, insurance, registration, you name it. Our employers do not have to pay the costs of meeting emissions-compliant regulations; that is our financial burden to bear. Clean trucks cost about four to five times more than what we take home in a year. A few of us haul our company’s trucks for a tiny fraction of what the shippers pay per load instead of an hourly wage. They still call us independent owner-operators and give us a 1099 rather than a W-2.

We have never recovered from losing our basic rights as employees in America. Every year it literally goes from bad to worse to the unimaginable. We were ground zero for the government’s first major experiment into letting big business call the shots. Since it worked so well for the CEOs in transportation, why not the mortgage and banking industry too?

Even the few of us who are hired as legitimate employees are routinely denied our legal rights under this system. Just ask our co-workers who haul clothing brands like Guess?, Under Armour, and Ralph Lauren’s Polo. The carrier they work for in Los Angeles is called Toll Group and is headquartered in Australia. At the busiest time of the holiday shopping season, 26 drivers were axed after wearing Teamster T-shirts to work. They were protesting the lack of access to clean, indoor restrooms with running water. The company hired an anti-union consultant to intimidate the drivers. Down Under, the same company bargains with 12,000 of our counterparts in good faith.

Despite our great hardships, many of us cannot — or refuse to, as some of the most well-intentioned suggest — “just quit.” First, we want to work and do not have a safety net. Many of us are tied to one-sided leases. But more importantly, why should we have to leave? Truck driving is what we do, and we do it well.

We are the skilled, specially-licensed professionals who guarantee that Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are all stocked with just-in-time delivery for consumers. Take a look at all the stuff in your house. The things you see advertised on TV. Chances are a port truck driver brought that special holiday gift to the store you bought it.

We would rather stick together and transform our industry from within. We deserve to be fairly rewarded and valued. That is why we have united to stage convoys, park our trucks, marched on the boss, and even shut down these ports.

It’s like our hero Dutch Prior, a Shipper’s/SSA Marine driver, told CBS Early Morning this month: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

The more underwater we are, the more our restlessness grows. We are being thoughtful about how best to organize ourselves and do what is needed to win dignity, respect, and justice.

Nowadays greedy corporations are treated as “people” while the politicians they bankroll cast union members who try to improve their workplaces as “thugs.”

But we believe in the power and potential behind a truly united 99%. We admire the strength and perseverance of the longshoremen. We are fighting like mad to overcome our exploitation, so please, stick by us long after December 12. Our friends in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports created a pledge you can sign to support us here.

We drivers have a saying, “We may not have a union yet, but no one can stop us from acting like one.”

The brothers and sisters of the Teamsters have our backs. They help us make our voices heard. But we need your help too so we can achieve the day where we raise our fists and together declare: “No one could stop us from forming a union.”

Thank you.

In solidarity,

Leonardo Mejia
SSA Marine/Shippers Transport Express
Port of Long Beach
10-year driver

Yemane Berhane
Ports of Seattle & Tacoma
6-year port driver

Xiomara Perez
Toll Group
Port of Los Angeles
8-year driver

Abdul Khan
Port of Oakland
7-year port driver

                                                               Ramiro Gotay
Ports of New York & New Jersey
15-year port driver