OAKLAND – A wide array of labor and community groups, joined by local public officials, is calling on the Port Commission here to support legislation that would compel marine terminal operators to improve safety and reduce pollution by trucks.

Judy Goff, Alameda County Central Labor Council executive secretary-treasurer, said the AFL-CIO is supporting two companion bills before the California state legislature and similar efforts by labor-community coalitions on the West Coast because of the grave concern for the “health and safety for our workers and our communities.”

Assembly Bill 2650, sponsored by Assembly member Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), requires marine terminals to reduce truck idling to 30 minutes outside a terminal gate or face a $250 fine for each truck in violation. Currently, trucks often idle for two hours.

Senate Bill 1507, introduced by State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), requires terminal operators to inspect the chasis of intermodal trucks and holds them, rather than drivers, liable for safety violations, as well as protects drivers from threats for requesting an inspection.

Romero’s bill passed the senate earlier this week and Lowenthal’s was expected to pass the assembly as we went to press. Both bills then go to the opposite house for consideration.

Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel, who represents the neighborhoods next to the port, spoke at a press conference here May 21. Nadel said heavy concentrations of diesel emissions have been shown to spark asthma attacks in a community where 25 percent of public school children suffer from asthma. She urged the port commission to back the bills because it “should be obligated to look at every possible way to mitigate pollution” that threatens the community and children’s health and education when they have to miss school.

In addition, Willie Keyes, president of West Oakland Neighbors, said he joined the protest because the 9,000 to 22,000 trips per day that trucks at the port make produce cancer-causing dioxins that must be drastically reduced.

“We have two new terminals coming, we have a railroad yard coming and all these are going to increase the amount of diesel emissions in the community,” warned Lawrence Thibeaux, Northern California District Council legislative representative for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Along with the bill to cut down on truck emissions, Thibeaux argued that, as ports expand and container trucking increases in the community, legislation like the Romero bill is needed to “make sure this equipment is safe for all people on the road.”

Joe Silva, Teamsters Local 70 president, joined the others in calling for the port commission to “step up and support” the two bills and “protect the health and safety of everyone involved.” Additional local groups supporting the legislative bills include the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, which has sponsored several successful living wage initiatives in the area, and the California Trucking Association.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org