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Let’s clear the air on trucks

By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
August 09, 2010

Driving a truck to a seaport to haul containerized cargo is tough, tedious, and often dangerous work. The compensation is low, and the competition is high. Yet the barriers to entry, while significant, are not insurmountable. All one needs is a rig, a license, insurance, security clearance, and an intense desire for a better life.

That’s about to change if the International Brotherhood of Teamsters get their way.

In a development that would be laughable if it were not so calculatingly devious, the union has forged a partnership with “progressives” comprising community activists and environmental groups to mandate that independent owner-operator truckers be banned from the ports.

The ostensible purpose of this alliance is to remove older polluting vehicles from the surface arteries feeding cargo to the ports and replace them with cleaner fuel-burning trucks. This is an admirable goal if unionizing drivers was the only way to achieve it.

That is clearly not the case, say supply chain professionals who have been monitoring the situation closely.

At the Port of Long Beach, for example, a system is now in place to permit independent truckers to compete with union drivers for freight hauling as long as their vehicles meet rigid new standards for exhaust emissions. The port has won praise from wide range of residential and business stakeholders, and continues to be the most productive cargo gateway in the nation.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who recently introduced a bill that would effectively end the free enterprise drayage system at all U.S. seaports, has conveniently ignored that news.

According to Nadler, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, his Clean Ports Act of 2010 will enhance the ability of ports to enforce clean-air standards by making them the exclusive domain of organized labor. Nadler has cited the Los Angeles Clean Truck Program (which would eliminate non-union drivers) as a national model program, while observing that the Los Angeles “concession” program has been challenged in federal court.

Those supporting his efforts to amend the Federal Motor Carrier Act “above the current federal requirements” is The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports—loosely composed of highly unlikely Teamster bedfellows. This includes the Sierra Club, which has a never been regarded as “labor friendly” in the past.

Lost in their argument is the fact that both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are currently preventing the older, dirtier trucks from entering the port facilities. A concession plan (opening the door for Teamster organizing) is not required to enforce this ban.

Mounting opposition to this bill is the “Clean and Sustainable Transportation Coalition,” which points out that Nadler inaccurately states that the ports do not have the ability to enforce the Clean Trucks Program.

While mostly composed of U.S. importers and exporters, this coalition also includes the American Association of Port Authorities, which earlier this year passed a policy position that states that it does not believe there is a need to amend the Act because of the success of current clean truck programs.

It is also worth noting that since the ports have implemented these programs, over 8,000 trucks have been replaced to meet or exceed 2007 U.S. EPA emissions rules. In Southern California alone, the Clean Trucks Program has reduced air emissions by 80 percent, a full two years ahead of schedule. Other ports around the country, including Seattle, New York/New Jersey and Oakland, are all implementing similar clean truck programs to reduce harbor truck emissions without the controversial truck concession program.

Without coming out publicly now to say so, the trade and supply chain community is also concerned about the potential impact of giving the Teamsters control of the nation’s drayage network. With International Longshore and Warehouse Union strikes and work stoppages a recent memory, the last thing shippers need is to give another union complete control of a vital link in the supply chain.

About the Author

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Patrick Burnson
Executive Editor

Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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