SoCal portsÆ TWIC rollout set for mid-December
The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, scrambling to implement a truck pollution plan that promises to slash the size of the two ports' drayage fleet, now face a looming mid-December deadline for the start of a federal security program that could reduce the fleet by another 20 percent.
The combination of the two plans, an inability to attract new drivers to the industry, and a drayage labor pool already stretched thin, could lead to serious cargo movement problems within the port area by the end of next year.
The Transportation Security Administration, in a Tuesday announcement of the estimated rollout dates for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program for all U.S. ports, revealed that Long Beach and Los Angeles would start implementing the program by mid-December. The federal TWIC identity card will be required for all workers entering port facilities unescorted, including drayage drivers. As part of the process to obtain a card, workers must submit to a federal background check and be fingerprinted.
The neighboring Southern California ports, which combined represent the busiest container port complex in the Western Hemisphere, are serviced by a drayage fleet of nearly 17,000 vehicles. A recently commissioned ports study found up to 22 percent of the drayage fleet drivers, or about 3,400 drivers, would not apply for a TWIC card, and thus be ineligible to enter port facilities. The study also found that another 20 percent were uncertain if they would apply for the card.
According to studies, port drivers in the Southern California ports are largely Hispanic, with a large percentage being recent legal immigrants. Most studies of the drayage fleet accept that some of the drivers would not pass a TWIC background check due to immigration status, though the number of illegal immigrant drivers has never been accurately quantified. Estimates have ranged from 5 percent to more than 30 percent depending on the study.
The two ports' drayage fleet, notorious for supposed low wages and harsh working environments, already operates at a bare minimum, with new drivers becoming harder and harder to lure into the business. Trucking groups have expressed concern for several years that the number of new drivers in the trucking industry is slowly falling short of those lost through attrition.
Earlier this year, Long Beach and Los Angeles port officials announced a plan to replace all the trucks in the port drayage fleet with 2007 or later models. The plan also sought to convert independent owner-operator drivers into employees and consolidate the number of trucking firms into a handful of large players. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters have pushed heavily for the ports' truck plan, which many experts have said would make the drivers ripe for a Teamster unionization effort.
The plan also sought to set up a licensing system that would consolidate the estimated 1,300 trucking firms in the area to a handful of large firms that had 'deep pockets,' as port officials said. The port-defined criteria to obtain a license would also allow the ports to mandate that only employee drivers were used by the trucking firms.
On Oct. 25, the ports announced that they would vote this week on a revised truck plan that would forego the labor and licensing components. Long Beach harbor commissioners postponed their Monday vote after it was revealed by American Shipper that Los Angeles officials changed their version set to be voted on Thursday.
The new scaled-back version of the truck plan would force terminal operators to ban certain model year trucks from entering port facilities according to a rolling schedule. The first deadline, Oct. 1, 2008, would see all pre-1989 trucks barred from entry into the ports. Currently, this represents nearly 3,000 trucks. As the ports have yet to adopt any funding mechanism to replace the trucks set to be banned, these trucks now represent a potential loss to the fleet.
The total loss of about 6,400 drivers out of a fleet of 16,800 would require drivers after Oct. 1, 2008, to increase daily container moves from an average of 2.6 per day to 3.6 per day to maintain the ports' current volumes. This number of turns per day, according to the ports' own study, is now attained by only 27 percent of the current fleet, or slightly more than 4,500 trucks. The ports' study speculates that these trucks likely belong to larger trucking firms that move containers very short distances from the ports to nearby facilities. The remaining 73 percent of the current truck fleet breaks out as follows: 10,300 trucks make between two and three moves a day, with about 2,600 moving two or less containers per day.