Speaking to about 300 cheering truck drivers, union members, public health advocates and environmentalists who gathered outside the Marriott Hotel, where the California Labor Federation is holding a two-day conference, Dellums said he supports "the right of truck workers to be employees."
Dellums said the current system in which truck drivers who work at the Port of Oakland work as contractors and only get small hourly wages and no benefits is "a false wage perpetuation of poverty and pollution."
Public health advocates say the diesel-spewing rigs used by truckers who can't afford to upgrade to cleaner trucks pollute the air in neighborhoods near ports, such as the West Oakland community.
Dellums praised Los Angeles for being the first city in the state to have a "clean truck program" and said he hopes Oakland will be the second city to have such a program.
The program in Los Angeles has three elements: incentives and fees for clean trucks, a requirement that trucks operating at its port be owned by companies, not by individual drivers, and creating community-friendly provisions for areas near the port.
Dellums praised Villaraigosa for "his guts, courage and integrity" in working with the Teamsters Union, which is one of the biggest and toughest unions in the country, to develop the program.
Villaraigosa said "what's good for labor is good for America" and said if the movement for clean truck programs ends in Los Angeles and isn't emulated elsewhere "we'll miss a great opportunity."
Dellums said Villaraigosa, who's raising money for a possible bid to run for governor in 2010, had to keep his speech short because he had to catch a plane.
After Villaraigosa spoke he got into a Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicle and was escorted to the Oakland International Airport by two Oakland police officers on motorcycles.
Following brief speeches by Dellums, Villaraigosa, Sharon Cornu of the Alameda County Central Labor Council and Chuck Mack, the secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 70, those at the rally marched down Broadway for another rally outside the Port of Oakland's offices.
Among those scheduled to speak at the second rally were James Hoffa, the general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, state Attorney General Jerry Brown, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Art Pulaski, the secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.
Port of Oakland spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said the port is working on a comprehensive truck management program that would include a provision to set aside $5 million to help retrofit 1,000 trucks with new filters in a bid to reduce pollution.
Sandifur said Port commissioners already voted in March to reduce the health risk from diesel particulates by 85 percent by the year 2020.
However, Sandifur said the Port hasn't yet mandated that trucking companies hire drivers as employees instead of using them as independent contractors.
Sandifur said Port commissioners will vote next month on the possibility of hiring a consultant to study the costs and impacts of having a new labor/employee model.
She said such a study would take three months and commissioners won't make any decisions until they have information from a study.
Clayton Boyce of the American Trucking Association said his organization supports some of Los Angeles's plan to make the trucking industry cleaner but it will file suit to oppose the requirement to have drivers hired as employees.
Boyce said the association would also sue the Port of Oakland if it approves such a requirement.
Boyce said the U.S. Supreme Court that state and local governments cannot enact laws governing the price, route or service of truckers.