After five years and numerous appeals, the American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit challenging certain provisions of the Port of Los Angeles clean trucks plan has been put to rest, with harbor trucking interests scoring a powerful victory.
However, the nation’s largest port also achieved its primary objective, because truck pollution in the harbor has been slashed by 91 percent, with 11,500 clean new trucks introduced into the harbor-trucking fleet since 2008.
The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles at the weekend permanently enjoined the port from enforcing certain provisions in its clean trucks plan, including the provision the ATA considered to be the most onerous, the employee-driver mandate.
Los Angeles, at the urging of the Teamsters union and other pro-labor interests, had attempted to require that drayage companies hire owner-operators as direct employees. If that provision had been upheld, unions would have been free to attempt to organize the drivers. Unions, by law, cannot organize independent contractors.
The U.S. District Court on Aug. 23, on remand from U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and consistent with a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in June, permanently barred the Port of Los Angeles from enforcing three provisions in its 2008 clean-truck plan.
Those provisions were the employee-driver mandate, an off-street parking provision proposed by the port to lessen the impact of trucks in surrounding neighborhoods and a placard requirement for trucks.
The ATA fought all of those provisions, arguing that federal law prohibits state and local entities from regulating motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce. Los Angeles had argued that those provisions were necessary for the port to successfully enforce its clean-air program.
The Supreme Court did not rule on two other provisions in the clean trucks plan that would have allowed the port to scrutinize trucking companies’ maintenance and repair programs and financial reports.
Curtis Whalen, executive director of ATA’s intermodal conference, said that since the port is not enforcing those two provisions, the Supreme Court in effect said it had nothing to rule on, but if the port would attempt to enforce the M&R and financial provisions, ATA could step in again and attempt to stop the port.
After five years, the Port of Los Angeles may be distancing itself from the more contentious provisions of the clean trucks plan designed to make it easier for unions to organize harbor truck drivers. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa championed that effort, but earlier this year he termed out and his replacement, Eric Garcetti, has shown no interest in revisiting the issue.
Also, there is no doubt that the clean trucks programs in both Los Angeles and Long Beach have achieved their primary goal of reducing pollution to an unprecedented degree. Other ports are implementing similar, though less aggressive clean-air programs.
In a statement, Los Angeles said the court decisions “will not interfere with the clean trucks program’s air improvements for port communities.”
Whalen said the efforts by organized labor to unionize harbor truck drivers at ports across the nation are still alive and well, but they are taking place in a different forum. The strategy today appears to be centered around the issue of driver classification.
Organized actions are taking place on a state-by-state basis where unions are working with departments of labor to attempt to prove that trucking companies exert enough control over owner-operators that the drivers are being misclassified as independent contractors.
Whalen calls such cases “onsies-twosies” because they are quite fact-intensive. Regardless of the decision, the ruling is usually narrow and applies only to the trucking company in question and does not set a precedent for the industry, he said.