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Wal-Mart, Best Buy Oppose Efforts by Ports to Set Labor Rules

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. oppose efforts by U.S. ports to set labor rules, putting the companies at odds with lawmakers backing a so-called clean-truck program in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Trade groups representing U.S. importers including Wal-Mart and Best Buy support the American Trucking Associations, which says the truck dispute is about labor union organizing and not clean air. The groups support laws that prevent a patchwork of rules from being adopted by each port operator.

“It is most important to understand that this debate is not about clean air or reducing the ports’ environmental footprint,” Robert Digges Jr., trucking association chief counsel, told a House highways subcommittee today during a hearing on programs in Los Angeles and Long Beach. “It is rather about the port driver.”

Los Angeles began a program in 2008 that required drivers delivering or picking up goods to be employed by licensed trucking companies. Independent truck owner-operators who can’t be unionized effectively would have been blocked from the Southern California ports.

As many as 98 percent of trucks serving the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports aren’t owned by trucking companies, according to the Arlington, Virginia-based trucking group. The so-called drayage trucks pick up goods in containers from ships and deliver them to over-the-road trucks or distribution centers.

The Los Angeles program is being challenged in federal court after twice reaching the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The district court last year halted the owner-operator ban while permitting environmental requirements to remain in effect.

Port Rules Backed

Supporters such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Teamsters union say the labor provision ensures trucks are maintained because owner-operators may lack the money to keep their vehicles in good repair and limit emissions.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, is pursuing legislation that would let ports including the Port of New York and New Jersey set rules, exempt from being overturned by federal agencies. Current law limits ports to imposing only safety rules.

“This is not only a California issue, but a national one,” Nadler wrote April 27 to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Ports in New York and New Jersey, Seattle and Miami “are grappling with similar obstacles presented by port trucking but are unable to implement a comprehensive program given the legal uncertainty and injunction against the program in Los Angeles,” he said.

More than 30 importer groups, including the National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association, last year asked House transportation committee Chairman James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, to retain federal pre-emption to such port rules.

“While we strongly support efforts to improve air quality and port security in and around America’s ports, the effort to undermine federal preemption of interstate commerce is an attempt to overturn losses in the federal courts restricting local regulation of truck drayage services,” they said.

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