Port workers in Los Angeles could be hit hard by US-China tariffs

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Trade tensions between the United States and China could also have a big impact on California. About half of the trade between the two countries passes through Los Angeles and Long Beach. These tensions could cause real problems for workers at ports in Southern California.

CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports.

Southern California has two major ports: the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles. The L.A. port is one of the country’s biggest and busiest ports. It also has an increasingly dependent relationship on trade with China. It provides about 190,000 jobs in and around L.A. provided, and supports about 2.8 million jobs in the U.S.

Many port workers are worried about the impact trade tariffs between the U.S. and China will have on their jobs. Daniel ‘Seko’ Uaina, a truck driver at the Port of L.A., is one of them. He works for a Chinese-owned company.

“If these trade wars happen, there’s no way I’m going to make sufficient enough money for my family. What am I to do? Where am I to go? When there isn’t anything there for me to provide for them,”  Uaina said.

CGTN reached out to the Port of L.A. and asked them for an interview, but the port declined the request. It said, however, that it didn’t want to get involved in the politics and debate around this issue.

But the port’s said before that it understands how crucial the U.S.-China relationship is:

“China is the number one customer of the port and this has been true for a couple of decades,” Jim MacLellan, director of Trade Development for the Post of L.A., said in 2016. “Since China joined the WTO, we’ve seen a steady growth – as much as 10-percent a year – in trade with China over the last generation and really, they’ve become our number one trading partner. And really, their growth has helped us to become the port we are today.”

But many of those working at the ports don’t actually work for the ports. They’re technically self-employed. That includes Uaina.

“We can’t claim anything in order to help and assist our families, because they have us as quote-unquote ‘independent contractors’,” he explained. That has unions worried.

“If they’re not hauling cargo, they still have to pay for their truck. And many have leases for those trucks and they’re charged by the day to rent the truck and to park the company truck in the company yard,” Barbara Maynard of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union said. “It’s the biggest rip off and exploitation case you’ve ever seen and so these drivers really don’t have an opportunity to protect themselves in the way that many workers do.”