A proposed law that would require the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to employ drayage truck drivers
as a means to improving drivers' earnings and working conditions is a bad idea, representatives of those two ports and others told a Washington State House of Representatives committee on Tuesday.
At a hearing of the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee
, witnesses opposed to the legislation questioned its legality and said the proposal would increase costs to shippers and make the two ports uncompetitive.
Rep. Roger Freeman, the prime sponsor of the bill, H.B. 1719
, said “there are injustices in the Port of Seattle and trucking business” and was introducing the bill to help drayage drivers who are independent contractors and are “often paid very little, must keep their truck in condition at own expense. The cost that they bear to do this job is really keeping them in poverty.”
He also said the area around the port is negatively impacted by the industry—“it’s just a graveyard of trucks and that community is really suffering as a result of this industry.”
Freeman said in the previous session of the legislature he had tried unsuccessfully to get legislation passed that would require trucking companies to make independent drivers employees.
“That didn’t make it out, so I think the better route this time is to make the port of Seattle to employ these truck drivers,” he said.
Freeman’s original bill would apply only to ports in counties with more than 1 million residents and only have affected Seattle, but an amendment introduced yesterday would lower that threshold to 800,000, making Tacoma also subject to the law, if it is enacted.
Scott Hazelgrove of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association said “we believe a 70 percent increase in trucking costs would occur under the bill or approximately $105.” He said a recent study completed for the state legislature had shown even a $30 increase in the cost of moving a container could result in a 30 percent drop in container volumes.
He also noted container movements are cyclical so that ports would either have to large numbers of underemployed surplus drivers during slack seasons or not have enough drivers during period of peak demand, and therefore provide poor service to shippers.
Larry Pursley, executive vice president of the Washington Trucking Associations, said “this bill would destroy the existing intermodal trucking industry that does business in either the ports or Seattle or Tacoma. That means the majority of the companies that employ both drivers and independent contractors would have to close their doors, putting both their independent contractors and their employee drivers out of work.
“Millions of dollar in equipment and equity in the business would be lost,” he said.
Pursley said his association’s attorneys have looked at the proposed law and have found problems, saying it would regulate rates, routes and services, subjecting it to federal preemption.
He said it would burden Seattle and Tacoma and exempt agricultural products, which he added would violate state and federal provisions guaranteeing equal protection.
But Dmitri Iglitzin, an attorney for the Joint Council of Teamsters, said for 20 years “people have wrung their hands about how to improve the plight of owner operators working in the Port of Seattle and also the Port of Tacoma.
“We know from federal law that the State of Washington cannot require trucking companies to treat their owner operators better, and we know from the experience of 20 years that absent such a requirement, the trucking companies are not treating their owner operators better, so the only solution that will both improve the jobs and living situation of owner operators and also survive a legal challenge is the one you have before you."
Iglitzin said while a port cannot regulate trucking companies, it has a right to have a “preference for self performance” and perform work itself, just as it can require a cruise ship calling at its facility to use the port's own fire and police departments.
“In this case, if you are a shipper, instead of paying money to a trucking company and having the trucking company skim off profits… instead of the shipper giving excess profit to the trucking company, the shipper will contract with the Port of Seattle, which will provide these services itself. There is no case law suggesting that it is unlawful or preempted in anyway,” he said.
Samantha Keller, coalition organizer at the organization Puget Sound Sage, said truckers have trouble affording new trucks, and residents of neighborhoods near the ports “continue to breath dirty diesel air.”
Linda Styrk, managing director of the Port of Seattle’s seaport division, warned the bill would impose conditions that no other port would have to meet and make the Port of Seattle “noncompetitive to every other port on the West Coast, becoming a poor choice for shippers and cargo owners.”
She said Seattle is a landlord port, and cargo movements are arranged by the cargo's owners, be they agricultural suppliers, retailers, or manufacturers or through their representatives—freight forwarders, brokers, logistic providers or railroads.
Styrk noted about 70 percent of the import containers Seattle receives go by rail to the Midwest and some containers are trucked to as far as Montana and Utah. About 50 percent of exports come from outside Washington state.
“Because of that we are a discretionary port, a choice for cargo from Asia that continues on to other markets and for U.S. exports going overseas,” she said. Seattle competes for cargo with Oakland and Tacoma, as well as Vancouver and Prince Rupert in British Columbia.
Sean Eagan, director of government affairs at the Port of Tacoma, said the bill would treat all cargo and all ports the same and “does not necessarily fit with the operations on the ground.”
He explained that the vast majority of Tacoma’s containers move from dock to rail without needing drayage on local roadways.
He said trucks moving cargo to and from the port primarily come from the point or origination or destination, which could be a hay exporter in Central Washington or a distribution center in Lewis County.
“This raises a number of questions. What are you going to do about these long haul truckers? Are these individuals now employees of the Port of Tacoma? We have some ports that may only call the Port of Tacoma once or twice a year,” he said. “Are we going to have to somehow supervise what they are doing the rest of the year as maybe they are hauling cargo between a factory and some other manufacturing plant elsewhere in the state of Washington? How are we supposed to have the capability to oversee that?"
He also noted “we have some trucks that call the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle—who are they an employee of?”
Eagan also contended the Port of Tacoma lacks the infrastructure to employ vast numbers of workers that it would be forced to hire under the law. The port currently employs 230 people, but has 8,500-9,000 truckers enrolled in its clean truck program, an indicator of the size of the drayage workforce. - Chris Dupin