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Amy Traub

Good Jobs and Clean Air: New York Ports Must Follow LA’s Lead

The Port of Los Angeles’ innovative Clean Truck Program is legally in the clear: it’s time for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to follow their tire tracks.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder upheld the Port of Los Angeles’ right to fully implement a program replacing thousands of dirty diesel trucks with cleaner vehicles, aiming to reduce port-related air pollution by 80 percent. The Clean Truck Program had been impeded by a lawsuit from the American Trucking Associations, a trucking industry trade group that objected to the requirement that truckers servicing the port become employees of licensed trucking companies with concession agreements at the port. Yet, as the judge found, this provision is integral to the long-term functioning of the truck program, as well as the port’s need to protect its $57 million investment in clean trucks. Judge Snyder is expected to lift the injunction shortly. This is an ideal time for New York and New Jersey ports to implement an employee driver provision of their own.

The status quo of port trucking jobs at our ports is as dysfunctional as the Los Angeles situation that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Director of Economic Development Strategy, Sean Arian, described at a Drum Major Institute event in 2008:

In her finding, Judge Snyder recognized the legitimate interest that L.A.’s port – and implicitly, any other port – has in fixing the problem. The Los Angeles Times sums up:

Snyder concluded that the concession agreements were a "business necessity" that allowed harbor officials to protect its financial interests. In her ruling, she said that air pollution from trucks had jeopardized the port's future as a commercial enterprise, with lawsuits over emissions stalling growth at the harbor for seven years -- just as other ports were growing dramatically. "The concession agreement helps the port manage its property and facilities as any private landlord and facilities operator would," she wrote. Snyder also ruled that the employee provision would ensure that drivers have the available funds to maintain the environmentally friendly truck fleet -- protecting the port's financial investment in subsidized vehicles.

As I explained to the New York City Council Waterfronts Committee in June, the same broken employment model that threatened Los Angeles’ Clean Truck Program also prevails at the Ports of New York and New Jersey. Port truckers face poverty wages and cannot afford to maintain new, clean trucks. To keep the trucks maintained and to sustain the environmental benefits, the ports must either keep adding more taxpayer subsidies on the program or – L.A.’s original idea – make the powerful, profitable players in the industry responsible for the trucks and their upkeep. In the process, there’s an opportunity to make companies responsible for their drivers too, giving port truckers the same protections to things like fair wages and hours, and occupational health and safety that other working people have. Indeed, the Los Angeles plan hinges on turning port trucking jobs back into the type of solid, middle-class jobs they were before the industry was deregulated in the 1980s.

Now that the Los Angeles model, including the critical employee-driver provision, has been legally vindicated, New York and New Jersey Ports must catch up.

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Posted at 10:27 AM, Aug 30, 2010 in Employment | Energy & Environment | Environmental Justice | Labor
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