Why do the Port of Los Angeles and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa so hate small, independent trucking firms?

The city-owned port and the mayor have been on a long campaign to eradicate the thousand or more companies whose trucks haul cargo in and out of the port. And they have cynically tried to use the Clean Truck Program as a club to knock the life out of the small companies, as if they were so many baby seals huddled around the port.

Of course, the answer is simple: They hate the little companies because they’re not unionized. The port could have written its Clean Truck Program merely to create a fair and just system in which new clean-burning trucks could be purchased by the small trucking firms at subsidized rates. Instead, its program mandates that new trucks be driven by employees of a few big companies – big companies whose employees can be organized easily by the Teamsters.

The fact that unions have been heavily involved with inserting the employee mandate isn’t exactly a secret. The American Shipper magazine reported two years ago that Teamsters President James Hoffa met with Villaraigosa (a former union organizer) in 2006 to help shape the Clean Truck Program. And the Los Angeles Times reported March 21 that the employee mandate was backed by Change to Win, a Washington, D.C., labor group that contributed $500,000 to a Villaraigosa-backed campaign for a telephone user tax.

Finally, some sanity was imposed on the Clean Truck Program on March 20 when three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said they saw little merit in the port’s arguments, “which denigrate small businesses and insist that individuals should work for large companies or not at all.”

The judges said that for many small trucking companies, the employee mandate, “would likely be fatal. … One wonders why it should be thought that they should just put up with the loss any more than employees of a company should be forced to abide their wrongful termination.”

Sadly, the mayor quickly put out a press release saying the city intended to fight on rather than concede the employee mandate. What’s more, the press release was misleading.

“Our Clean Truck Program is reducing toxic port truck pollution at an accelerated pace, and today’s ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals does not challenge the truck ban schedule or truck fees that are helping us successfully battle this health crisis,” said Villaraigosa.

Well, no, it does not. That’s because the lawsuit was against the employee mandate; it does not challenge the things the mayor mentioned.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Trucking Associations, and Clayton Boyce, its spokesman, said the group applauds the goal of banning old fume-spewing trucks. It has even worked to help create the fee on shippers; that money helps pay for the clean replacement trucks.

The association merely wants a clean truck plan that is fair. That’s why it filed the lawsuit, which “is about protecting the rights of the owners of small businesses that the Port of Los Angeles has trampled.”

Indeed, it would be gratifying if the mayor and the Port of Los Angeles did the right thing. The right thing would be to rewrite its Clean Truck Program into what it should be – a just plan to subsidize the replacement of old trucks – and stop contorting it into a payoff for union cronies.

Oh, and it would be nice, too, if they stopped clubbing the small truck companies that have so long and so dutifully served the port.