California bill would OK collective bargaining for port owner-operators

| 5/5/2006

A bill awaiting a final vote on the California Senate floor would give owner-operators whose trucks service ports in the state the right to collectively bargain.

Sponsored by Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, the bill won approval late last month in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. It would extend to port owner-operators the right to organize and to negotiate collectively with port motor carriers regarding such matters as compensation and benefits.

In addition, the measure – SB1213 – would extend to those drivers key benefits that many employees in the state have, such as the ability to withhold their services on a collective basis – in essence, the right to legally strike – and to be free from any coercion by port motor carriers regarding those rights.

Dunn offered the same bill during the 2005 session. That effort won passage in the Legislature only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In his veto message, the governor wrote that the measure was “counter-productive to the cooperative work that must be accomplished to capture the economic potential afforded by the growth in international trade.”

Existing anti-trust laws prohibit independent contractors from engaging in collective action to improve their economic conditions. However, shipping lines and terminal operators have federal exemptions from the rules, which allow them to fix the rates paid to truck drivers, an analysis on the bill stated. Dunn’s bill would create an anti-trust exemption for owner-operators.

Supporters say congestion and fuel costs lower the income of owner-operators, who have little or no recourse. The bill would create a fairer and competitive market for trucking services at ports in the state.

Opponents say the bill doesn’t do anything about congestion at the ports. They blame the problem on foreign-based shipping lines and the marine terminals they own.