Spotlight on Tracy Ellis – Working Class Hero

I am a proud mom to 3 older children. My baby boy is 18 years old and studying to become a nurse at Cerritos College. My 19 year old was born with Cerebral Palsy. My 30 year old is studying to get her Real Estate License.

My youngest 2 live with my stepmom right now. We live humbly, we rent a 1 bedroom back house. It’s super small and we don’t have a kitchen, but luckily I became a master at cooking with crockpots and hot plates when I used to drive long distances over-the-road.

I’ve been working at Shippers Transport Express for nearly 3 years. I’ve been a port driver since 2001, and was an over-the-road driver for a while. I then became homeless for a while due to identity theft. We were living out of hotels, which quickly traps you as it becomes way more expensive than living at home. I started working at a port trucking company that misclassified me as an independent contractor. I was required to lease a new truck from the company under the Clean Truck program. One day, I got into my “clean truck” right after it had just been to maintenance. They had left fiberglass pieces in the air ducts, and the moment the air came on the fiberglass shards blasted into my lungs. I rushed to Saint Mary’s with an asthma attack, but then became allergic to the steroid and had to be admitted to ICU. It quickly derailed. My pancreas failed and I became a full-blown diabetic. No medication could help, but even worse – I had no health insurance, and now also no job.

I owed $3,000 on the lease of my brand new clean truck, but I couldn’t pay it without working, and I wasn’t well enough to return to work. I lost my truck. I lost my car. I lost my home. I couldn’t afford these expenses as well as my medical expenses. Once again, I was homeless. It broke me.

I was still homeless when I started working at Shippers, but thankfully having a stable union job helped pull me out of it. I now finally have fair pay, paid time off, sick leave, and vacation time to enjoy with my family. Shippers even has a fleet of mechanics available to repair anything that could break down on my truck immediately. At my previous company, they made me pay for every repair and maintenance cost!

I soon realized that a union contract was a great equalizer. As a woman of color, I was guaranteed equal pay and treatment to my male counterparts, and had an opportunity to become a leader and help my coworkers. Last summer, I was elected Shop Steward.

Being a Shop Steward isn’t easy. It can be a double edged sword, but I consider myself a unity coordinator. As a woman I can navigate different genders and ethnic group more easily than most men. As a woman of color, I have even more opportunity to unify my coworkers.

I hope to push us all forward in a positive direction, as a unified workforce and supply chain. Without unity, nothing can move forward or change at the ports.

Cross post from Justice for Port Drivers