While Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was giving his State of the City address at the Police Administration Building yesterday, a federal trial was getting underway a couple blocks north. The trial will determine the fate of one of the mayor's most ambitious initiatives: the Port of L.A.'s Clean Trucks Program.

As Art Marroquin reports for the Daily Breeze, the American Trucking Association has sued the city to overturn the program's “employee mandate,” which would require that all port drivers be employed by trucking companies. The mandate would make it possible for the Teamsters to unionize the workforce.

That's not possible under the current system, because drivers are classified as independent owner-operators. However, the city can't claim that that's the reason for the mandate, because such rules are supposed to be the exclusive province of the federal government. And so, the city's lawyers are left making arguments like this:

The employee mandate “was adopted by the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on the basis of safety,” (attorney Steve) Rosenthal said. “It was the belief of the board that this will lead to greater control of driver conduct.”

You get paid extra if you can make that argument with a straight face. The ATA argues that the employer's relationship with its drivers is none of the port's business, and has already succeeded in blocking the implementation of the mandate pending the outcome of the trial.

In a sign that they expect to lose, the city and the Teamsters have already begun lobbying Congress for an amendment to federal law that would allow cities to re-regulate the industry, one port at a time.

LA Weekly