The air-cargo industry has long been a solid employer for New York. John F. Kennedy International Airport has been a gateway for products from all over the world, and New Yorkers have built careers transporting them across the region. These are the kinds of jobs that allow you to raise a family, send your kids to college and look forward to retirement.
But we have lost many of them to places like Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago for a reason that might surprise you: Our archaic regulations barred standard-size truck trailers from many of our expressways—including the Van Wyck, Whitestone and Cross Bronx, which is the route from JFK to just about everywhere. Shippers here had to use smaller, less efficient trucks, and it became cheaper for international and domestic shippers to route goods through Chicago and truck them east than go through New York.
Not long ago, the Teamsters represented 5,000 air-freight drivers at JFK. Today, it’s 1,200. And it’s not just Teamsters. JFK supports more than 50,000 jobs in the city. An uncompetitive airport puts them at risk.
But a de Blasio administration regulation that took effect March 5 finally harmonized our trucking rules with the rest of the country, so industry-standard trucks can now pick up and drop off at JFK.
It protects neighborhoods by restricting these trucks to two major highway routes. It will ultimately mean fewer trucks, as aligning our standards with the rest of the nation will allow shippers to transport goods more efficiently.
Will the truck drivers follow the rules? Yes. If you don’t believe me, believe the data.
Last year, the city’s Department of Transportation analyzed recent GPS tracking data for three months from a cross section of trucking companies that regularly serve JFK cargo operations, and found that more than 99% of trucks stayed on the highway routes.
As New York fleets upgrade to the larger trucks, they will have to purchase new, cleaner vehicles, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
“Open for business” is a common refrain from politicians, but often it is code for taxpayer-funded giveaways and union-busting, low-wage jobs. This is different. Mayor Bill de Blasio has sent a message to the world’s shippers that JFK is ready to again be the nation’s premier port of entry for air freight, and bring back the good union jobs that New Yorkers used to count on from the airport.
George Miranda is president of Teamsters Joint Council 16.