The battle between the Teamsters union and the American Trucking Associations will drag out into next year, but the rules of engagement could change significantly.
The ATA and the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 2 jointly petitioned the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for an expedited hearing involving the port’s clean-trucks case. The appellate court in San Francisco will review a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder that Los Angeles is a market participant in competing with other ports for cargo and is therefore exempt from federal pre-emption law that prohibits state and local entities from regulating motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce.
The ATA charges the concession requirement in Los Angeles’s plan mandating the use of employee drivers violates federal pre-emption law. By law, unions can’t organize the owner-operators that dominate the harbor truck industry. If Snyder’s ruling stands, the employee-driver mandate, which is supported by the Teamsters union, would open the door to unionization of harbor truck drivers.
If the 9th Circuit upholds the Los Angeles employee-driver mandate, the Teamsters union would presumably begin its unionization efforts in Los Angeles and proceed to other labor-friendly cities that have announced support for employee drivers in their ports’ clean-trucks efforts, including Oakland, Seattle and New York-New Jersey.
If the court grants the request for an expedited hearing, briefs would be filed by Jan. 31, with a hearing possible in the spring.
The Teamsters and its environmental allies in a national organization known as the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports aren’t relying on the Port of Los Angeles case alone in their effort to promote unionization of harbor truck drivers. This will be the third time the Los Angeles clean-trucks case goes before the 9th Circuit, and in previous decisions, the appellate court indicated the port’s efforts could violate federal pre-emption law.
Advocates of unionization of harbor truckers have other strategies in play. The coalition is working with Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., in promoting the Clean Ports Act of 2010, which would allow ports to implement clean-trucks programs with environmental requirements that exceed current federal standards.
The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports says the legislation would “put an end to the ATA’s ongoing efforts to thwart the L.A. clean-trucks program as well as clean fleet turnover plans at seaports across the country.” If the bill passes, other ports could mimic Los Angeles’ effort to include employee-driver mandates in their clean-trucks plans.
The coalition also supports an investigation by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the highways and transit subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to investigate leases between harbor trucking companies and owner-operators in Southern California to determine if there is an employer-employee relationship.
Harbor trucking companies attempt to maintain an arms’ length distance with owner-operators in their drayage leases in order to establish that the drivers are independent contractors and not employees.
DeFazio’s subcommittee initiated its investigation into the Southern California leases when the House of Representatives was heavily Democratic, but the party lost its dominance in Tuesday’s elections. Curtis Whalen, executive director of the ATA’s intermodal conference, said the dynamics in Washington have changed.
Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.