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Truckers blast Long Beach loan program

August 23, 2008|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

Port of Long Beach officials came under boisterous criticism Friday from about 60 truckers at the grand opening of a Clean Trucks Center where big-riggers can apply for financial assistance to replace their diesel vehicles with new, cleaner models.

A crowd of protesters assembled about 20 yards from a stage where Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster praised the Terminal Island center as a "first step toward a much cleaner Long Beach of the future." The demonstrators verbally attacked his port's lease-to-own program, which they said could put truckers deep into debt.

As officials sat in white folding chairs, a dozen Long Beach Harbor Patrol officers barred the demonstrators from approaching the stage with placards that said "I want to drive a clean truck, not buy one!" Some drivers shouted, "Clean trucks, yes! Bankruptcy, no!"

The Long Beach program offers a special arrangement to truckers who want to buy a $100,000 truck for a third of that cost. City officials call the program a bargain.

Opponents, backed by the Teamsters union and a coalition of environmental, immigration and consumer rights groups, contend that several economic challenges make the program a risky one for 16,700 low-income independent owner-operators.

Earlier this week, the coalition urged the Port of Long Beach to replace its program -- which allows independent operators as well as drivers employed by trucking companies -- with the model used by the Port of Los Angeles.

In the L.A. plan, independent truckers will no longer be allowed and companies will buy and maintain the new rigs. The plan has raised labor concerns because, as both Teamsters and union critics acknowledge, it's easier to organize workers as a company, rather than a bunch of independents.


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