Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling rejecting two more concession requirements in the Port of Los Angeles clean-trucks program did not drive a stake into the heart of the port’s attempt to regulate harbor trucking, but it made the task of any port attempting to follow such a strategy more difficult.
The nation’s highest court stated that two seemingly innocuous concession requirements — that motor carriers display certain placards on their trucks, and that the companies have off-street parking plans for the trucks — violate federal pre-emption law.
However, the court did not rule on whether the port can punish violators of two remaining requirements, that motor carriers must demonstrate financial responsibility in order to call at marine terminals, and that they produce maintenance and repair programs for trucks.
In effect, the court stated that until or unless the port attempts to enforce those concession requirements, it has no action that it can rule on.
Therefore, the decision of whether to continue with the concession requirements for harbor truckers appears to be with the port. In a brief statement Thursday, Los Angeles said it is reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision. Because of political realities, it could be some time before port attorneys decide to pursue the matter further, if they choose to do so at all.
The Los Angeles clean-trucks plan, which is almost identical to the Port of Long Beach program, except that in Long Beach there are no concession requirements, has been remarkably successful. As Los Angeles noted in its statement, harmful diesel emissions from trucks have been reduced by 90 percent in five years.
In that respect, any argument saying the concession requirements are needed to guarantee environmental results is spurious.
Furthermore, the clean-trucks plan in Los Angeles was a cornerstone of the overall port policy of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who sought to achieve two goals. By implementing the clean-trucks and over-arching Clean Air Action Plan, the port is now able to secure environmental approval for expansion projects, so that goal has been accomplished.
The second goal of Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, was to make it easier for labor unions such as the Teamsters to organize harbor truck drivers. Because the vast majority of drivers are independent owner-operators, and federal law prohibits unions from organizing independent contractors, the clean-trucks plan attempted to force trucking companies to hire the drivers as direct employees.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the employee mandate violates federal law, so Villaraigosa clearly lost on that goal.
The city and port spent millions of dollars defending that argument, and now that Villaraigosa is termed out and is being replaced by former City Councilman Eric Garcetti, it is not certain if the new mayor wants to spend more money in a battle he did not initiate.
It also appears that the American Trucking Association, which took its suit against the port to the Supreme Court, accomplished much of what it intended, which is to win a ruling that will discourage other ports or cities from attempting to regulate harbor trucking.
Curtis Whalen, executive director of ATA’s Intermodal Institute, said the Teamsters’ battle to organize harbor truckers across the country appears to have shifted to a strategy to show that drivers are being misclassified as independent contractors and should be classified as direct employees.