Truck drivers serving California’s ports have been misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees for decades. One result of this is that the resulting economic model of port drayage often does not allow the so-called owner-operators enough revenue to keep their trucks’ emission control systems in top shape.
We see the results of this every day in Southern California as dirty trucks leave the ports and carry cargo along freight routes such as the I-710 and I-60. The South Coast air basin has the worst ozone (smog) in the United States, and these trucks are a big part of the reason why.
On April 24, 2018, California State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced SB 1402, which is designed to attack this set of problems. It imposes financial liability on beneficial cargo owners (think big box stores) that take advantage of trucking companies that underpay their drivers. You can think of this is an anti-sweatshop bill in the sense that a company may refuse to deal with sweatshop products upstream in its supply chain, and this bill attacks the end of the supply chain for sweatshop-like conditions.
NRDC has been working to clean up diesel and other pollution at the Los Angeles ports since 2002. We had some success with the 2008 Clean Air Plan, but trucks that were bought new in 2008 eventually wear out and underpaid drivers are not able to replace or repair them. It is our view that SB 1402 will bring market forces to bear and help stop the dangerous underpayment of port truck drivers in California. Clean ports and sustainable jobs can and should exist together.