Featured article: Ports of Confusion

By Todd Dills | October 01, 2009

 “There’s a big push here to make an environmental issue an employment issue,” says Devine Intermodal’s Carl Dolk. “It’s moved up [from L.A./Long Beach] to Oakland big-time.” Essentially, the effort to mandate employee status for drayage drivers is viewed as necessary by the ports and environmental groups for the accountability it places on the fleets for updating the equipment used by their drivers. In many cases, port owner-operators run on extremely tight margins and tend to use older equipment.

These efforts also are championed by the Teamsters, who need employees, not owner-operators, to potentially boost their ranks.

OOIDA’s Joe Rajkovacz says, “The Teamsters and environmentalists are pursuing legislation to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate port drayage.” The legal maneuver sought by the Port of Oakland would essentially circumvent ATA’s argument about the L.A. port’s violation of interstate commerce regulations and give local authorities more power when environmental issues are at stake.

It’s likely that California’s congressional delegation will support Oakland’s initiative, as it did the one in Los Angeles, Rajkovacz says.

Los Angeles port spokesman Arley Baker calls the independent contractor phase-out in the Clean Trucks’ program a move to get contractors “a consistent paycheck, benefits, workers’ comp, and establish a more stable/secure work environment on port property. It also made the drivers more accountable to the [fleets], which is better for the ports, since the concession program places responsibility for the trucks and the drivers” on the fleets.

Enforcement of idling rule scant

Contrary to what some owner-operators say, CARB spokesperson Mary Fricke says enforcement of the five-minute idling time limit in California is well under way.

On average in 2008, though, there were fewer than 17 daily spot checks of sleeper berth vehicles, leading to 389 citations. For daycabs and other non-sleeper-berth trucks, citations numbered about a third of that.

When the drayage and reefer rules begin, Fricke says, “We expect to take a progressive approach to enforcement, treating initial infractions as outreach opportunities and not issuing citations. Eventually, citations will be issued.”

CARB estimates reefer fines will range up to $1,000. For the drayage rule, no numbers have been suggested. Fricke says, “Enforcement will primarily be against the motor carriers for sending non-compliant trucks to the terminals. We can also fine owner-operators for not properly maintaining their emission control device.”

“When you start talking about owner-operators in their late 50s and 60s, these regulations will mean nothing to them. They’ll retire out of the industry before they have to make changes to their operation. Then you look at a lot of the younger guys just coming into the industry – they’re buying fleet-spec’d equipment that is in compliance.”

– Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist

One owner’s solution

As many owner-operators leased to Bay Area port hauler Devine Intermodal await grant assistance funding to upgrade to 2009 technology, some instead are upgrading to used trucks to comply.

Late last year, owner-operator Robert St. John traded up from a 2000 Freightliner Century Class to a 2005 of the same model, working through Cascade Sierra Solutions (cascadesierrasolutions.org) and ShoreBank Pacific to secure low-interest financing. The 2005 model year put him ahead of the drayage rule coming at year-end.

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