Thursday, January 18, 2018

Around the Bend: Pondering knotty port problems


Wednesday, June 2, 2010
by DOROTHY COX

Congress could be gearing up to change trucking rules to let ports and other entities regulate trucking on their turf. It was evident last month during testimony at a House subcommittee hearing on the status of clean truck programs at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that some members of Congress are contemplating changing regulations governing the trucking industry.
Congress could be gearing up to change trucking rules to let ports and other entities regulate trucking on their turf. It was evident last month during testimony at a House subcommittee hearing on the status of clean truck programs at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that some members of Congress are contemplating changing regulations governing the trucking industry.

Congress could be gearing up to change trucking rules to let ports and other entities regulate trucking on their turf. It was evident last month during testimony at a House subcommittee hearing on the status of clean truck programs at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that some members of Congress are contemplating changing regulations governing the trucking industry.

What they want to change is the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA), and as we reported in the May 15-31 print edition of The Trucker, it’s a long-standing law that codifies interstate trucking regulations.

Amending or changing the FAAAA to let ports and local government entities regulate trucking on their turf would introduce a crazy-quilt of rules that change from port to port and municipality to municipality, turning all of trucking on its ear just when freight is starting to pick up and capacity is tightening.

The National Retail Federation asked Congress to reject any attempts to change the FAAAA, saying it would devastate commerce as we know it.

“Allowing the ports or other local entities the ability to regulate rates, routes and service for interstate and international trucking would wreak havoc on the commerce of the United States,” the NRF said.

When the American Trucking Associations (ATA) filed suit in 2008 arguing that port concession requirements were a violation of FAAAA provisions re-empting local regulation of trucking as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause, the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of ATA and issued a temporary injunction against the concession requirement. The requirement (at the Port of L.A. only) essentially would phase out owner-operators at the port and replace them with carrier employees.

The ATA has said until it was blue in the face that while it whole-heartedly supports efforts to clean up air at the ports, phasing out owner-operators has nothing to do with clean air, since the Port of Long Beach has accomplished its clean-air goals without banning owner-operators.

Indeed, several committee members expressed confusion during the hearings over what having company drivers or owner-operators had to do with clean air.

The line of questioning by other congressmen, however, seemed to be worded as to elicit answers tying the two together.

For example, in response to close questioning by Rep. James L. Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the chief of the Port of L.A. said if the ports don’t have “legally set standards of our own” to regulate trucking, their clean air efforts won’t be “sustainable.”

His reasoning was that owner-operators can’t afford new, cleaner trucks even with heavy subsidies and that carriers can.

Lin Perrella, staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council said federal legislation is needed to protect clean truck programs at ports across the country to “pave the way for local authority to address the [environmental] effects of port drayage.”

Frederick Potter, director of the Teamsters’ port division, noted the notoriously low wages of port haulers and said they shouldn’t be saddled with paying for cleaning up the air. He said the Port of Vancouver has eliminated owner-operators and mandated collective bargaining with good results.

But it’s my opinion that while it’s true that port haulers have historically been underpaid and overworked, changing the FAAAA would further impede an already over-regulated industry.

The Retail Federation pointed out that trucking deregulation in the ’80s was an attempt to eliminate the overlapping, inefficient patchwork of local and state regulation of rates, routes and services.

They said the FAAAA pre-emption provision “was enacted to make it absolutely clear that state and local entities had no business regulating in this area, which is constitutionally reserved to the federal government.

“Congress should eschew taking this dangerous step that is certain to have wide-ranging economic impacts on business and industry.”

I’m not saying the federal government has done such a perfect job of regulating trucking or that the system at the ports is so great.

And yes, independent port haulers are grossly underpaid and jerked around by many of the carriers for which they work and by the shippers. And yes, they can barely afford to make a living, now, much less afford to buy clean trucks.

But to me, these wrongs don’t add up to a right, and I suspect ATA Vice President and Chief Counsel Robert Digges Jr. was right when he said forcing out owner-operators from the ports is a move aimed at unionizing the ports.

The gross injustices committed against port haulers have been going on for years and years. Have congressmen just now developed a conscience about the plight of port haulers, many of whom are from underdeveloped countries? I wonder.

A source who used to be a Teamster and a port hauler told me he was shocked to find out that the union really doesn’t care about the individual owner-operators and that they’re using these workers’ plight to pave the way for unionizing not just the ports but “all cross-docking operations” and “distribution centers.” He was disheartened by it. He said at least it should be up to individual port drivers as to whether they want to be independents or company employees.

Nobody in their right mind would be against cleaning up dirty air in the ports and consequently the residential areas that surround them. And nobody should condone the slave labor-like arrangements under which port haulers work.

But is it necessary to change interstate trucking regulations to assure that port haulers are paid a fitting wage or to clean up the environment? I don’t think so.

What do you think?  

Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at dlcox@thetrucker.com.

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