Kudos to Los Angeles Mayor
Garcetti and Garcia pledged last week to wean their publicly owned ports off dirty diesel and other fossil fuels and switch to zero-emission equipment by 2035. This aggressive plan to cut emissions is vital both to protect residents living near the single-largest source of pollution in the region and to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change.
The question is how to achieve that goal without exacerbating the inequities of the logistics industry that have turned many port truckers into modern day indentured servants.
A decade ago, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach enacted the Clean Trucks Program that banned older model trucks from entering the port complex. The program was necessary because the ports were often the last stop for the oldest, dirtiest trucks that could be bought cheaply by drivers, who work as independent contractors serving trucking companies. And it was successful — toxic diesel soot dropped by 97%.
The rules mandated newer, cleaner models that often cost well over $100,000 to buy and required pricey maintenance. That expense was simply unaffordable for most drivers, who worked an average of 50 hours a week and took home less than $30,000 a year after expenses, according to a 2007 report.
The original program pushed by then-L.A. Mayor
The labor and environmental groups behind Villaraigosa's plan argued that the mandate was the only way to ensure that already low-paid truckers didn't get stuck with the huge expense of clean-truck transition. Critics derided Villaraigosa's plan as a Teamster-backed attempt to force march the industry from independent contractors to unionized employees. The American Trucking Assn. sued, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the requirement.
A decade later, many drivers say the Clean Trucks Program worsened the already poverty-level wages they earned as independent contractors. Because many drivers couldn't afford to buy their own trucks, they entered into lease-to-own arrangements with trucking companies that bought new vehicles. In some cases, the leases heavily favored the trucking companies. In an investigation published last week, USA Today found that the arrangements often left drivers with little money after paying for the truck lease, fuel and other expenses. The newspaper uncovered contracts that allowed companies to fire truckers at will, keeping both the truck and the payments that had been made.
Many drivers will eventually pay off the leases and own their trucks, but they worry that they'll soon be back in debt as the ports require ever-cleaner vehicles.
The ports should not back off their clean-air goals. But leaders in L.A. and Long Beach also cannot proceed without finding a way to help drivers manage the transition to zero-emissions vehicles — for example, by offering grants or low-cost loans to help drivers buy clean trucks. The
The labor strife and pollution problems at the port are complex, made all the more challenging by the fact that L.A. and Long Beach are competing for trade customers with ports across the country. So far, however, there are few signs that city leaders are taking truckers' concerns seriously or thinking about how the next generation of clean-air goals will impact their livelihood.