Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pushed his "Clean Truck Program" as a way to improve the air quality in and around the Port of Los Angeles. And while a cleaner air is in everyone's best interest, a Los Angeles Times report suggests that it could be truckers who are left holding the short end of the stick. Semi drivers have been encouraged to replace their beat-up, high pollution diesel rigs for much newer trucks with particulate filters that trap harmful gasses before they ever reach the atmosphere.

But while the new trucks are most definitely cleaner, they're also far more expensive; often costing over $100,000 each. Truckers are leasing the vehicles from the trucking companies for over $1,000 per month, and they also have to spring for fuel and insurance and maintenance costs are said to have risen. Some drivers say that they have been driven to sleep in their rigs at night to save time and increase earning, and even after that after paying for the bills, wages can be as low as $7 per hour.

Trucking companies say that the drivers aren't faring nearly as poorly as advertised, and they counter that the Clean Truck Program's real aim was to unionize the drivers. According to the LAT, that was actually supposed to be part of the plan, as Mayor Villaraigosa intended for truckers to give up on being independent contractors in favor of becoming employees of the trucking company. Teamsters President James P. Hoffa justifies unionizing the employees, adding that the drivers are "slaves" to their rigs. Meanwhile, the trucking companies have taken the government to court in an effort keep the the city from forcing the companies to hire on the workers with benefits including health care. The industry promises to continue to fight hiring the thousands of port workers even if the case needs to go to the Supreme Court.

We're not experts on government law or unionization, but it sounds suspiciously like the city of Los Angeles chose to draft and enforce new trucking laws without working closely enough with the companies that would end up footing the bill. The good news is that the air in LA appears to be a bit clearer, but the bad news is that the truckers appear to be the ones making the sacrifices.

[Source: Los Angeles Times | Image: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty]