The Port of Oakland was operating smoothly Thursday, with no sign of protesting truckers, and no delays at marine terminal gates.
Chris Lytle, Oakland’s executive director, intends to do everything possible to maintain fluid operations after weeks of sporadic work stoppages by longshoremen and protests by harbor truckers over slow turn times and pending environmental requirements.
“If this thing continues, cargo goes away, and when cargo goes away, jobs go away,” said Lytle, who took over as port director in late July.
Dozens of owner-operator truck drivers blocked entrances to marine terminal gates on Monday and again on Tuesday this week. Monday’s protests were the most costly as some marine terminals could not work during the day shift. Protestors were met early Tuesday by Oakland Police Department and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department officers, and access to most of the terminals was restored quickly.
The protests by the independent truckers, which were not supported by harbor trucking companies, involved two issues: long truck lines at marine terminals and requirements by the California Air Resources Board that will force the retirement of about 800 older, polluting trucks when the regulations take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
The independent truckers said job actions this past month by dockworkers have been costly to their industry. The drivers, who get paid by the trip and are not compensated for wait times, have dealt with on-again, off-again congestion in the port caused by longshoremen and by a recent consolidation of marine terminals.
Issues involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union dockworkers and pensioners have occurred sporadically since July. Pensioners shut the port down one day to protest delays in receiving reimbursements for medical bills.
Also, SSA Marine took over the operation of two adjacent marine terminals, a consolidation move that resulted from the departure of two terminal operators who stated they could not operate profitably in Oakland. Gate congestion continued for more than a week during the transition.
Finally, the ILWU lost jurisdiction over equipment maintenance and repair following the consolidation because SSA’s contract for M&R is with the International Association of Machinists. Alleged hard-timing by longshoremen contributed to congestion and long truck lines at the expanded SSA terminal.
The CARB regulations that will force the retirement of trucks with pre-2007 engines have been well-publicized, and the industry has had more than five years to prepare for them. Now that the Jan. 1 deadline is about four months away, the owner-operators are apparently seeking a delay in implementation of the rules, or higher compensation so they can purchase newer, compliant trucks.
In a letter Wednesday to the owner-operators, Lytle said he would immediately reach out to CARB and ask for flexibility with the deadline. Meanwhile, Lytle said he would ask motor carriers “to review their compensation policies and, as appropriate, propose alternatives.”
When Lytle was deputy executive director and later executive director in Long Beach the past five years, the port’s clean trucks program included a port contribution of $56 million to help owner-operators purchase new trucks. Neighboring Los Angeles contributed a similar amount to subsidize the purchase of compliant trucks.
Lytle said Oakland the past few years helped subsidize drivers who extended the life of their trucks through the purchase of diesel particulate traps. However, those devices will no longer meet CARB requirements come Jan. 1. Realistically, Oakland does not have the financial resources to subsidize drivers seeking to purchase new trucks, he said.
However, it is time for over-the-road truckers who purchased new trucks in 2007 to replace them with newer models. It is common in trucking for older vehicles to be sold to the drayage industry. Because the 2007 or newer vehicles operated by over-the-road truckers are compliant with the CARB regulations, harbor truckers in Oakland may be able to purchase them for about $40,000 each, Lytle noted.
The port director said he will continue to hold regular stakeholder meetings and will look for creative ways to resolve these issues. “We will make a big push to get beyond this and grow our cargo,” he said.