Los Angeles Business Journal

Court Says Port Truckers Can Maintain Independence

By James Rufus Koren Originally published September 26, 2011 at 1:35 p.m., updated September 26, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.

Trucking companies operating at the Port of Los Angeles will not have to hire their drivers as employees, a federal court ruled Monday.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the port’s plan to require companies to hire drivers as employees, part of its Clean Truck Program, is not allowed under federal law. Most port truckers are independent contractors who own their trucks, not employees.

The employee mandate has been the most controversial part of the Clean Truck Program, a plan enacted in 2008 aimed at reducing pollution by requiring truckers to buy new rigs.

The trucking industry has argued that the mandate was merely a political tool that would allow the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to organize port truckers, who can’t unionize as independent contractors.

The American Trucking Associations sued the port over five requirements of the plan, which required trucking companies to obtain a concession to service the ports. The concession required the companies to hire drivers and prove they have the financial wherewithal to meet all program requirements.

A Los Angeles federal judge in 2010 ruled that all five of those concession measures could stand. The 9th Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling Monday –with the major exception of the employee mandate.

The majority on the three-judge appeals panel ruled that most of the plan was clearly aimed at improving safety or wouldn’t seriously impact trucking operations, but the employee mandate was “tantamount to regulation” and therefore violated federal law.

Port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said the port’s Harbor Commission will decide whether or not to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also was disappointed by the ruling, although he noted that "other components of today’s decision keep us on a path of green growth by ensuring that trucking companies that contract with the Port of Los Angeles are required to maintain a clean trucking fleet.”

However, "by failing to uphold the employee driver provision, today’s ruling hurts the long-term sustainability of the Clean Truck Program," Villaraigosa said in a statement.