Coming Clean

About a month ago we read in the Long Beach Press-Telegram:

“Coupled with the fees recently approved by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, Lowenthal’s bill could add up to $ 160 to the cost of moving most 40-foot-equivalent containers (FEUs) through local seaports … .”

“The new fee tacks $ 60 to each 40-foot-equivalent container moved through the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland. Those costs would be on top of a $ 70-per-FEU tax the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles jointly approved in December to pay for truck replacement, and a $ 30-per-FEU tax the same boards approved for infrastructure projects earlier this month.”

All these add-on fees are supposed to provide for truck replacement and infrastructure upgrading in the “Clean Air Plan”. The employee-only provision of the “Clean Air Plan” is designed to force trucking firms to hire drivers as per-hour workers rather than as independent contractors on a per-load basis, but has drawn criticism from trucking companies and shippers, as well as from drivers.

At present, the majority of port drivers are independent owner-operators, and surveys have shown that most do not wish to be employees. Trucking companies and shippers argue that the ports have no legal right to force them to invest heavily in new trucks and to employ drivers. Not only would trucks begin depreciating in value immediately, they argue, but if they were forced to employ drivers they would be faced with the problem of union organizing.

The whole issue is a can of worms, and even the port officials and political figures can’t seem to get on the same page. The LA Daily Breeze covered some interesting viewpoints last week in an article that hints at the possibility that some folks out there are beginning to see that the problems they’ve been creating cannot be solved unless radical changes are made in the system.

“Port officials in Long Beach,” the story began, “have broken from their counterparts in Los Angeles on a key component of a jointly developed truck replacement program, setting off a wave of criticism from environmentalists, labor leaders and elected officials.

“The Long Beach truck concession plan, which harbor commissioners are set to approve Tuesday, doesn’t include a stipulation that drivers be employees of trucking companies, as was originally proposed by both ports. Instead, the Long Beach plan allows ‘owner-operator’ truck drivers to continue working as long as their vehicles meet environmental standards previously determined by both ports.

“‘This is about clean air and the health of people in and around the port, and I think people have lost sight of that as some other issues came up,’ Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said. ‘It’s a huge undertaking and a complicated issue, but we have to send a signal out there that we need people to start making investments in clean technologies.’”