California bill would protect port truckers from shipper 'fines'

| 9/15/2004

The California Legislature has passed a bill that gives intermodal trucking companies and truckers protection from certain actions – including shipper-imposed “fines” – by port terminal operators or shipping lines.

The bill, SB348, was sponsored by Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-San Fernando Valley. It passed the Assembly Aug. 25 by a vote of 51-16, and was OK’d by the Senate Aug. 27 by a vote of 21-5. It was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature Sept. 2.

Bob Jiminez, who works on Sen. Alarcon’s staff, said the legislator introduced the bill in response to fines levied against port truckers.

Jiminez said the truckers were levied $65 if they didn’t return port containers during a specified time period that is written into their contracts. However, sometimes, when truckers attempted to return the containers or other equipment, the gates to the terminal would be closed, or some other factor beyond the truckers’ control would prevent their returning the container.

That situation is exactly what SB348 was written to address.

“What the bill does, basically, is say that if they’re late and it’s beyond the truckers control, they can’t be fined the $65 a day,” Jiminez said. “And if they do get fined, basically, the bill also says that the shipping companies cannot prevent these truckers from working while they appeal those fines.”

Frances Low, a staff consultant for the California Senate’s Labor Committee, told Land Line that while the bill could apply to other types of equipment, the bill mainly is targeting fines over late return of port containers. Trucking companies and organizations brought “a lot of documents of bills, basically how individual truckers or small trucking companies were billed or fined.”

In essence, the truckers didn’t like getting fined when being late wasn’t their fault. So legislators wrote SB348 to spell out what situations causing late return were not the truckers fault – and which ones they could not be fined for.

“For instance, if the port is closed after 5 o’clock on Friday and the trucker was unable to return his container – it’s not a time where the container could be used for other purposes because the port’s closed,” Low said. “So he shouldn’t be fined for those days over the weekend when the shipping company couldn’t even use the container.”

Sometimes, port terminals or shippers will change the delivery location, causing the trucker to be late. The law prevents a fine for that. A new law in the state fines terminals or ports if they cause a trucker to wait and idle more than 30 minutes. If a terminal takes action to comply with that law and in the process makes a trucker late in delivering a container, the terminal cannot fine the trucker.

And – significantly – if a trucker is put out-of-service because the container chassis provided by the port, terminal or shipper has maintenance violations – and being out-of-service makes the trucker late – the port cannot fine the trucker.

Shipping companies have opposed SB348, but truckers, trucking companies and the companies the truckers deliver to have all supported it, Low said. The bill has enjoyed bipartisan support in the Legislature as well.

SB348 is now on the governor’s desk. Low was not sure whether Schwarzenegger would sign the bill. However, she was hopeful.

“There is a lot of support,” she said. “These are independent truck drivers. We have a lot of problems in our ports right now, in terms of congestion and a lot of other problems. These truckers are faced with high fuel costs and insurance costs, many of them are leaving the business. … They’re hoping that this type of legislation would be considered good for business.

“These are small businessmen, and the governor has talked a lot about saving jobs and keeping good jobs,” Low said. “So that may be an issue that he’s willing to help out these truckers.”

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor