In a 2003 interview with The Journal of Commerce, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa was asked why harbor truck drivers in the U.S. were at the bottom of the transportation industry food chain. “The short answer is truck deregulation,” Hoffa said.
Prior to federal deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980, relatively few large motor carriers dominated harbor drayage, and most of those companies had Teamsters drivers. After deregulation, thousands of smaller trucking companies entered harbor trucking. In the cutthroat-pricing environment that evolved, trucking companies relied increasingly on independent contractors to haul containers to and from the ports.
The Teamsters have never given up their dream of taking back harbor drayage at U.S. ports, a goal that, if achieved, would boost union membership by more than 100,000. The main hurdle standing between the Teamsters and unionization of harbor truck drivers is the U.S. law prohibiting unions from organizing independent contractors.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, the Teamsters thought, if there were a way to get harbor trucking companies to hire drivers as employees. Drayage rates would increase, trucking companies would pay their drivers higher wages and the Teamsters would organize the employee drivers.
Adoption of the Clean Air Action Plan by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on
Nov. 20, 2006, and development of the Los Angeles clean trucks program that mandated the use of employee drivers, gave the Teamsters the apparent opening they were looking for to bring large, financially sound trucking companies with employee drivers back to the harbor.
While smaller, poorly financed drayage companies indeed left Southern California, Los Angeles and Long Beach launched their clean trucks programs with generous subsidies totaling more than $250 million from each port. The industry spent about $1 billion, and 10,500 old, polluting trucks were replaced in less than five years with compliant trucks.
Everything worked the way the Teamsters had planned, except the mandate in the Los Angeles program requiring the use of employee drivers. The American Trucking Associations in 2008 challenged the employee-driver mandate, and after five years of litigation and appeals, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Aug. 23 permanently enjoined implementation of the employee driver concession requirement.