Thursday, October 1, 2009

Judge Supports SoCal Harbor Drivers as Independent Operators

A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge has dismissed a suit brought by California Attorney General and Gubernatorial-hopeful Jerry Brown against a Southern California harbor trucking firm alleging the firm misclassified employees as independent owner operators.

Judge Elizabeth Allen White asked the lawyers for defendant Pac Anchor Transportation truck owner Alfredo Barajas to write up an order closing the case that she will sign.

The civil suit against Long Beach-based Pac Anchor was one of several brought by and publicized by Brown in 2008 in which he alleged that the trucking firms in question had engaged in "cost-cutting schemes, circumvented state employment taxes and labor laws, and took unfair advantage of drivers."

The suit was praised at the time by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other labor groups who have for years tried to get independent owner operator drivers reclassified as employees, thus opening the drivers up to organizing. Unions, under law, cannot organize independent owner operators but they can organize employees.

In her ruling, Judge White found that Brown’s case would have a significant effect on motor carrier prices, routes, and services and was therefore preempted under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which prohibits states from enacting and enforcing laws that are "related to" motor carrier prices, routes, or services.

The judge found that Brown’s attempted actions threatened to erect entry controls that would discourage independent contractor drivers from participating in the trucking market, thereby frustrating Congress' intent to maximize competitive forces in the trucking industry.

Following the court’s decision, Pac Anchor lawyer Neil Lerner said, "This case should never have been brought, as it was clearly preempted by federal law, and since at least one California Appellate Court had previously so held.”

SoCal MTOs Meet New CARB Reporting Deadline

Marine terminal operators at the adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles announced Wednesday that they have met the deadline to comply with a new clean trucks regulation from the California Air Resources Board.

The MTOs report that they were able to meet the deadline by modifying radio frequency identification system devices previously installed at the terminals under the night-gate PierPASS program.

By utilizing these RFID modifications, the MTOs said they would meet CARB’s new reporting requirement without requiring additional registration or other action from truck and cargo owners.

The CARB regulations, which take effect today and are part of the agency’s efforts to control diesel emissions, require the ports to report back to CARB all non-compliant trucks entering marine terminals or rail yards. To comply with these regulations, the MTOs will report information already collected by the PierPASS-maintained Drayage Truck Registry for each drayage truck entering the marine container terminals.

Under the system, the RFID information will be transmitted from the terminals to PierPASS, which will communicate the information to the two ports. The ports will then transmit the required information to CARB.

SoCal Ports' Clean Truck Program: Year One

The multi-billion dollar program by the adjacent ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to cut drayage truck emissions up to 80 by 2012 celebrated its first full year of implementation this week.

The ports announced that the Clean Truck Program is well ahead of schedule with nearly 5,000 trucks of the 13,000 remaining in the ports-servicing fleet now meeting the cleaner 2007-or-later model year emissions. These nearly 5,000 trucks, according to the ports, now account for more than half of the 39,000 average daily container moves at the ports.

The truck plan was first announced in early 2007 and began implementation on October 1, 2008, with a ban on pre-1988 trucks. Another ban on pre-1994 trucks is set to take effect at the start of 2010 and a final ban on all pre-2007 trucks will take effect on January 1, 2012.

Under the program, the ports are currently charging beneficial cargo owners $35 per TEU for any container moved through the ports by a un-banned but pre-2007 model year truck.

Despite the announced successes, a year later questions and criticisms remain.

The ports still face a legal challenge to the program by the American Trucking Associations and other industry groups. The suit awaits trial in a US District Court in December after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the lower court erred in initially ruling last year in favor of the ports. An additional legal challenge of the ports’ program by the Federal Maritime Commission was dropped earlier this year.

In addition, critics of the program have questioned the labor and competition cost of the program, pointing out that nearly 6,000 drivers have vanished from the ports’ drayage fleet since the program began. Critics also point to a loss of competition as nearly 300 mostly small trucking firms have also disappeared since the program began.

Opponents of the plan also point out that little hard evidence is available to support the air quality claims of the program and the ports admit that complete metrics of the first full year of the program’s operation may be up to a year away.

Long Beach City Council Eyes Grab at More Port Money

The Long Beach City Council has decided to hold a study session to explore the possibility of changing the city charter to extract more money from the Port of Long Beach.

Under the current city charter, the Port of Long Beach– which is managed and operated by the city’s Harbor Department– currently transfers 10 percent of its annual profits to the city’s Tideland Fund.

The port-transferred funds can only be used by the city for certain specific uses within the immediate port, harbor, and beachfront area, known as the Tidelands. However, the city uses the port funds to offset General Fund expenses within the Tidelands area, such as police and fire service.

Any change to the city charter would have to be placed on a ballot and approved by Long Beach voters.

At Tuesday’s weekly council meeting, port and transportation industry representatives expressed opposition to the idea, claiming that an increase in the port transfer would harm the long-term goals of the port.

The idea of increasing the port transfer to the city, which last year was more than $16 million, has been floated by council members and others numerous times since the 10 percent transfer was approved by voters in the 1980s. In each case the proposals have failed to make it to the ballot.

LA Port Approves $1.2 Billion for Civic Waterfront

In a marathon seven-and-a-half hour public meeting Wednesday, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners approved a $1.2 billion redevelopment project of the San Pedro public waterfront abutting the port.

Despite overwhelming support from port-area residents and business owners, the port admitted that the 400-acre redevelopment plan could take up to a decade to fully implement. It also remains unclear which portions of the project would proceed first and the commission gave port staff 30 days to return with a project priority list.

A major component of the first phase of the waterfront upgrade is a new berth and terminal at the port’s World Cruise Ship Terminal. Disney has signed a two-year deal with the port to begin Mexican Riviera cruises out of San Pedro in 2011, though the ports said it would refrain from contractually committing any terminal exclusively to a specific line.

Port officials said that just less than 65 percent of the $1.2 billion would go toward connecting the waterfront area with downtown San Pedro, located blocks away. The downtown area has suffered a serious downturn for years and business owners hope that a more direct connection to the waterfront will turn the area around.

Funds would also be used to spruce up the Ports O’ Call shopping area at the waterfront by converting a parking area into additional shop, restaurant, park and convention space. A new green-topped parking structure would also be built.

Port officials anticipate funding approximately $900 million of the total cost of the project, with an additional $300 million being raised through private investment related to the Ports O’ Call redevelopment.

It remains unclear from the port’s presentation how the anticipated port portion of the funding would be obtained. Earlier this year the port reported that overall revenues, one of the primary sources of development funds, had dropped more than 30 percent.