Industry advocates decry new inspection procedures

California trucking industry advocates say they are concerned new inspection procedures for vital equipment have added unnecessary delays to drivers’ shifts, according to a report in the Long Beach Press Telegram.

The issue — described somewhat differently depending upon the source — revolves around chassis, the trailers on which cargo containers full of goods sit when they’re shipped by truck.

Drivers have had so much difficulty obtaining chassis in past months that the equipment is often perceived as being a central factor in congestion problems around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

A new hiccup, however, has less to do with how quickly truck drivers find the chassis than whether they should have to wait for a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to inspect them for “roadability.”

The California Trucking Association sent out a statement last week, accusing the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association, the group that represents dockworkers during labor negotiations, of having created an inspections process that ultimately does nothing to reduce congestion around West Coast ports.

“The PMA and ILWU both claim they want to work to resolve congestion, but the implementation of inefficient, unnecessary chassis inspections says otherwise,” the statement charges. “Chassis should be repaired and inspected before they are provided to truckers, not after.”

ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said the inspection program is necessary for road safety and not significantly different from the way things have worked around West Coast ports for some 18 months.

The PMA and ILWU announced in January that the two sides had reached a deal on the repair and maintenance of chassis, a move that was seen as significant progress toward a labor deal at a time when negotiations seemed very difficult.

But since the deal was ratified in late May, trucking figures have said having ILWU members inspect chassis can be inefficient.

Similarly, the Journal of Commerce, a trade publication, has reported further delays resulted almost as soon as the contract was in effect.

Curtis Whalen, executive director of the American Trucking Association’s intermodal conference, said his group objects to the current inspections program in part because trucking firms were not included in contract negotiations affecting the way they do business.

What’s more, he said, federal law already requires whoever is providing chassis to make sure gear is safe for use before the equipment gets connected to a driver’s big rig.

Whalen and Alex Cherin of the California Trucking Association both said their groups plan to obtain input from federal regulators as to whether the ILWU even has the right to inspect chassis.

“They are asserting they have the legal authority to do this, which they do not,” Whalen contended.

Whalen also said chassis owned by motor carriers are not subject to inspection, but it’s still burdensome for drivers to have to prove their trucks are connected to exempt equipment.

Roughly 80,000 chassis are under the control of three firms that established a “pool of pools” of chassis intended to allow truckers to hook up to available equipment without having to worry about whether the gear has contractual links to any particular shipping line.

One of the three firms is TRAC Intermodal and its chief operating officer, Val Noel, said the company is still studying the inspections issue and working on developing data to gauge the overall performance of the chassis pool.

“Once these statistics start coming out, it will clearly show if the pool of pools is fleeted properly to meet market demand,” Noel said.