New chassis inspection process draws complaints

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 6/8/2015

Shipping ports throughout California have begun inspecting cargo container chassis as they leave port facilities.

The process slows cargo turn times and adds a burden to truck drivers, according to one organization that represents 200 drayage companies and licensed motor carriers. A spokesman for one labor organization disagrees.

Earlier this spring, the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union came to an agreement on a new labor contract that took nearly a year to hammer out. During the ongoing negotiations, multiple work stoppages combined with port inefficiencies caused a bottleneck of cargo freight to remain on ships and at the dock.

One provision of the new labor contract called for container chassis to be inspected as they left ports, adding another step for truck drivers to endure after they wait to enter a port, pick up a cargo container, and leave for their freight’s destination.

The process is particularly sensitive as the inspection change was reportedly sought by the ILWU. Union maintenance workers would be doing inspecting and chassis maintenance and repairs – including sometimes for chassis owned by trucking companies.

The Intermodal Conference of the California Trucking Association says the change is unnecessary and has added inefficiency to a delicate and important part of the economy: truckers.

The issue needs to be solved – and soon – according to Alex Cherin, executive director of the CTA’s Intermodal Conference. Cherin criticized the new inspection system in a statement issued by CTA on Friday, June 5.

“The PMA and ILWU both claim they want to work to resolve congestion, but the implementation of inefficient, unnecessary chassis inspections says otherwise,” Cherin said, according to a news release. “Chassis should be repaired and inspected before they are provided to truckers – not after.”

“The CTA calls on both sides to work with the trucking community to resolve this issue.”

Chassis, which were mostly owned by cargo shipping lines for decades, reportedly moved away from the chassis business by selling to chassis-leasing companies at West Coast ports.

The Journal of Commerce recently reported that chassis will likely continue to be stored at ports as they have for decades, although chassis storage details continue to be worked out.

One drayage company, Long Beach Container Terminal, has been informing trucking companies that trucks won’t be allowed to bobtail into its facility without a chassis.

The new system has supporters.

Craig Merrilees, a spokesman with ILWU, told Land Line Monday that the chassis inspection process has been underway for more than a year at some southern California ports. Merrilees said truck drivers who own their own chassis need only to present chassis inspectors with paperwork and “they’re waved through.”

“If they’ve got one of the chassis that are covered, they go through a quick inspection and the end result is the highways are a little safer, the docks are a little safer, and anybody who’s been given a bum chassis finds out before they get ticketed by the CHP,” Merrilees said.

Couldn’t chassis be just as easily inspected on the front end of the cargo cycle before trucks are waiting to leave ports?

“I think the important thing is there is some way to make sure the equipment that folks are working with on the docks and hauling with their rigs is safe,” Merrilees said. “That hasn’t always been the case. Over time there is a long list of defects and sometimes dangerous conditions that have turned up, and each one of those is a potential accident on the highways that’s being prevented.”

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