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Port of L.A. is urged to stop lobbying over clean-trucks program

The port wants permission to regulate truckers as part of its effort to reduce air pollution. Trade groups object, saying that would make it easier for unions to organize the drivers.

August 26, 2009|Ronald D. White

Several of the nation's biggest trade associations have fired a warning shot across the bow of the Port of Los Angeles, urging it to cease lobbying efforts to change a federal law that could greatly affect the way cargo is hauled into and out of the nation's seaports.

The warning came Tuesday in a letter signed by 24 groups representing U.S. retailers, agricultural interests, apparel and textile firms, trucking groups and logistics officials.

It's a response to the port's recent hiring of Atlanta-based Gephardt Group to try to change part of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act to help reduce air pollution at the port.

Federal law considers the truckers who haul freight at the port to be independent owner-operators who have no collective bargaining rights and can't join forces to raise pay rates. It also forbids governments from regulating the prices, routes or services of a trucking company.

The port contends that it can meet its environmental obligations and ensure that the ports are served by cleaner trucks only if the trucks are maintained by large companies or concessions. The port's plan is to turn many independent truckers into employees of concessions. The American Trucking Assn. has brought a federal lawsuit that seeks to have the concession plan barred.

The trucking group and the signers of the letter say changing the law would make it easier for unions to organize truck drivers at the port while American businesses are struggling.

The port's new plan would change the law to establish a 50-mile zone around the port where it would have limited regulatory authority.

The letter objects: "We strongly oppose the efforts of the port to support changing long-standing federal law . . . to include a provision within the Clean Truck Plan that has nothing to do with reducing truck emissions."

Port officials said in a statement that the law didn't envision the severe pollution problems they are trying to address.

The law should be updated to clarify its limits "and protect the rights of states and ports to have effective programs," the statement said.

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ron.white@latimes.com

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