Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Surprise! CA port drivers can't afford clean trucks

Los Angeles Times photo
Actually, it's not at all a surprise. But the Los Angeles Times story today about the Clean Trucks program is worth reading.

You'll recall that there are about 10,000 short-haul truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles. Trucking deregulation allowed their employers to treat them as "independent contractors," and require them to buy and maintain their own trucks. The result was dirty air and an epidemic of poverty. Today, the Long Beach Post reported that the unemployment rate is 14.2 percent and one out of every four full-time workers earned less than $25,000 a year in 2009.

Two years ago, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa  the Port of L.A. brought about the Clean Trucks program. As the Times points out,
The concept — to replace smog-spawning clunkers with newer and cleaner rigs — promised to slash emissions and offer a new deal for beleaguered port truckers, many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
It didn't work out that way. The drivers gave up their polluting old trucks and leased late-model clean trucks because they cost more than they could afford. A situation that was bad has turned desperate.

Villaraigosa's plan called for the drivers to become employees of the trucking companies at the port. The drivers would have been paid hourly and been eligible for insurance and pension benefits, while the trucking companies would have paid to operate the trucks.

The trucking industry didn't like the plan and challenged Villaraigosa's plan in U.S. District Court. The case may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the drivers are still independent contractors.

Or, as my boss, Jim Hoffa, put it, "slaves to their trucks." "They can never get ahead," Hoffa said.

Meanwhile, Transport Topics today reports some potentially good news for the drivers:
In a potentially far-reaching decision, the Internal Revenue Service has determined that a Southern California drayage operator classified a truck driver as an independent contractor rather than an employee...
“We conclude that the firm had the right to exercise direction and control over the worker to the degree necessary to establish that the worker was a common-law employee, and not an independent contractor operating a trade or business,” stated the Nov. 4 letter written by Susan Rosenberg, a Holtsville, N.Y.-based IRS employment tax technician.