After court ruling, clean truck supporters vow continuing fight

After a federal appeals court ruled last week against a key part of the Port of Los Angeles’s Clean Truck Program, supporters vow to continue the struggle for full implementation.

On Sept. 27, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the truck companies transporting goods to and from the LA port cannot be required to hire their drivers as employees – a measure which would shift responsibility for maintaining the trucks from a workforce largely low-paid and misclassified as independent contractors to the trucking firms.

Port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz and Patricia Castellanos, chair of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, both said they were pleased that the court had upheld other provisions of the award-winning program.

But Castellanos also warned that “cutting out a key component, if upheld, will have devastating consequences for working families and port communities plagued by dirty air and dead-end jobs.”

And Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement, “Today’s ruling hurts the long-term sustainability of the Clean Truck Program.”

The Journal of Commerce quoted attorney Melissa Lin Perrella of the Natural Resources Defense Council as saying that “without the employee mandate, the sustainability of the clean truck program over time will be jeopardized.”

The Port has not yet said whether it plans to appeal the court’s ruling.

The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports brings together some 150 environmental, public health, labor, business, faith and other organizations across the country. The coalition is urging people to sign a pledge of support for measures to end the pollution near ports and to improve conditions for truck drivers often working for low wages under very difficult conditions.

The coalition is also continuing to work for passage of H.R. 572, introduced in February by U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. The bill, now with 57 co-sponsors, would amend the Federal Motor Carrier Act to let ports enact and enforce clean truck and environmental programs.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has indicated she intends to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

A similar bill, AB 950, is now before the California legislature.

In another development potentially affecting port truck drivers, the Department of Labor and the IRS recently said they would work together to combat worker misclassification. Seven states have signed a memorandum of understanding, and several others are considering signing on.

“With that coordinated effort, enforcement will be a lot more effective,” Valerie Lapin, director of the Oakland Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, said in a telephone interview. “Clearly the port industry needs to be looked at. Illegal misclassification is pervasive throughout the port trucking industry. It’s encouraging that the Labor Department and the IRS are taking this very seriously.”

Studies of pollution around ports and Congressional hearings have highlighted the deadly effects on nearby communities of air pollution resulting from port trucking operations. The studies have also called attention to the plight of the truck drivers serving the ports, who, as independent contractors, carry the burden of maintaining their trucks while often earning as little as $10 an hour, with no benefits.

Photo: Jeannie // CC 2.0


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.