Trucker strike looming at Port of Oakland

January 2, 2010 5:25:26 PM PST
The New Year has only intensified an old battle between California truckers and environmentalists. Many drivers are upset about regulations that went into effect Friday that are forcing them to pay thousands of dollars to clean up their rigs.

Truckers are now threatening to walk off the job.

Truckers, state air board members, and city staffers all met at city hall for a closed-door meeting Saturday to discuss ways to avert a strike at the Port of Oakland come Monday morning.

Port of Oakland truckers were hopeful before the meeting. They say they do not want to form a picket line in front of the port on Monday, but will if they have to. It all has to do with a new state clean air deadline that kicked in January 1st, requiring trucks that service the Port of Oakland to be retrofitted with filters at a cost of up to $21,000 apiece.

Those without it will be banned from the port.

"We're screwed. If they stick to this deadline, then that means we can't work as we ordinarily do," driver Ron Dacus told ABC7.

3,000 to 4,000 trucks pass through the port daily, but only 1,600 have the new filters. The state promised to help truckers pay for the retrofit. $22 million in grants were available, but the money ran out. 1,200 truckers' applications were denied in September.

"We know that the truckers need help and we do want to reduce the amount of diesel pollution, so we started looking for other avenues to find funds for them," Lisa Fasano with the Bay Area Air District explained.

Next week, $11 million will be available to all of those denied. It is not enough to pay for the full upgrade which could leave these truckers out of work for up to a month.

"Truckers are not making enough money right now to come up with $21,000. It's hard," said Lakhbir Bhamra with the Norcal Rail and Port Truckers Association. "If it's hard for the state to come up with the money, it's of course, very hard for individuals to come up with $21,000."

Oakland's mayor sent a letter to the Air Resource Board on December 23rd, asking that truckers be granted access to the port while more funding comes through. In the meantime, truckers signed petitions Saturday, formalizing a federal lawsuit against the state and city. They are claiming the government breached their agreement to pay for the retrofit.

According to a port survey, 1,600 trucks are needed daily to move goods efficiently. That is the exact number of trucks that have done the new filtration work. But, trucking associations say that number is way too low. If they do picket, they are sure the truckers who have done the upgrade work will stand by them and not cross the picket line.