Alleging Millions in Wage Theft, West Coast Port Truckers Strike

Mario Vasquez

(Slobodan Dimitrov)

Hun­dreds of truck dri­vers oper­at­ing at the Ports of Los Ange­les and Long Beach went on strike Mon­day morn­ing in protest of wage theft by four of the ports’ largest truck­ing com­pa­nies, who they say mis­clas­si­fy them as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors rather than full-time employees.

The truck­ing com­pa­nies, Pacif­ic 9 Trans­porta­tion (or Pac 9”), Inter­modal Bridge Trans­port, Pac­er Cartage and Har­bor Rail Trans­port, oper­ate a com­bined 470 reg­is­tered trucks and do busi­ness in the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia ports that cur­rent­ly han­dle 43% of U.S imports enter­ing the coun­try. The com­pa­nies under strike count Wal­mart, For­ev­er 21, Toy­ota and Cost­co as clients, among oth­ers, accord­ing to the union behind orga­niz­ing efforts, Team­sters Local 848.

The union states that inde­pen­dent con­trac­tor mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion makes truck­ers inel­i­gi­ble for union­iza­tion and vic­tims of wage theft, stem­ming from a lack of unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, employ­er-pro­vid­ed health-care and hourly or over­time pay.

Despite work­ing under much of the same rules and con­di­tions as full-time employ­ees, port truck­ers oper­at­ing as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors have truck leas­ing fees and expens­es relat­ed to gas and main­te­nance deduct­ed from their pay­checks. As report­ed by Sarah Jaffe in In These Times last year, 2014 find­ings by the union and its allies at the Nation­al Employ­ment Law Project and Los Ange­les Alliance for a New Econ­o­my said that port truck­ing com­pa­nies in Cal­i­for­nia are liable for between $787 and $998 mil­lion in wage and hour vio­la­tions annu­al­ly, with 16,400 out of 25,000 truck­ers in the state being misclassified.

The strike aims to pres­sure the com­pa­nies into chang­ing their busi­ness mod­el and bring atten­tion towards a nation­al peti­tion released last week that demands that Los Ange­les May­or Eric Garcetti and Long Beach May­or Robert Gar­cia inter­vene to ban law­break­ing for prof­it” at the ports. The union claims work­ers will not back down from their pick­et lines until a sat­is­fac­to­ry response is giv­en by law­break­ing” com­pa­nies or the mayors.

Amador Rojas, an inde­pen­dent con­trac­tor truck­er strik­ing at Pacif­ic 9 Trans­porta­tion, says,“We are going to con­tin­ue to fight so that the com­pa­ny ends these unjust prac­tices. We are also call­ing out the author­i­ties that per­mit these types of injustices.”

We are not will­ing to con­tin­ue their game that pro­longs this tru­ly dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for all of us,” he con­tin­ues, speak­ing in Spanish.

The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly set for an NLRB hear­ing in mid-May after the com­pa­ny ignored a March 2014 labor board rul­ing that deemed Pac 9 truck­ers to be direct employ­ees rather than inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors. The union esti­mates that Pac 9 is poten­tial­ly liable for at least $12 mil­lion in wage theft vio­la­tions to its approx­i­mate­ly 140 dri­vers. Addi­tion­al­ly, all four truck­ing com­pa­nies are defen­dants in sep­a­rate pend­ing class-action law­suits regard­ing misclassification.

We have truck­ing com­pa­nies that are doing busi­ness on port prop­er­ty com­ing in and out and they are vio­lat­ing the law,” said Bar­bara May­nard, a Team­sters offi­cial, in a Mon­day morn­ing press conference.

That puts the may­ors [Garcetti and Gar­cia] in the posi­tion to say, You need to start obey­ing the law, or you need to get off the prop­er­ty.’ It’s a real­ly sim­ple ask,” May­nard said.

In a state­ment, Jeff Mill­man, spokesper­son for Los Ange­les May­or Garcetti, said:

Car­go will con­tin­ue to move swift­ly at the nation’s #1 port. Port Truck dri­vers are a crit­i­cal link in our glob­al econ­o­my and they deserve qual­i­ty work­ing con­di­tions. We appre­ci­ate those truck­ing com­pa­nies who are hav­ing an hon­est dia­logue about these issues. Team­sters are tar­get­ing four truck­ing com­pa­nies that they allege are vio­lat­ing work­ers’ rights. The Port of Los Ange­les is ser­viced by 800 truck­ing com­pa­nies oper­at­ing 13,700 trucks, so there are plen­ty of trucks and dri­vers to keep com­merce flowing.

The port of Los Ange­les had pre­vi­ous­ly attempt­ed to man­date truck­ing com­pa­nies into con­vert­ing all inde­pen­dent con­trac­tor dri­vers to direct employ­ees as a part of 2008’s Clean Trucks Pro­gram under May­or Anto­nio Vil­laraigosa, before being struck down by a U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in 2013.

Vil­laraigosa cham­pi­oned the man­date, but by the time it was blocked, he had already been suc­ceed­ed by Garcetti, whose port admin­is­tra­tion did not appeal to take the case to the Supreme Court. Garcetti has tak­en to bring­ing togeth­er the dri­vers and man­age­ment into truces, though work­ers have claimed retal­i­a­tion for their organizing.

Con­gres­sion­al leg­isla­tive attempts to turn the tide on mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion by employ­ers has gone nowhere, with some form of the Pay­roll Fraud Pre­ven­tion Act of 2014, a pro­posed bill to pro­tect those vic­tim of mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion by strength­en­ing pro­tec­tions and penal­iz­ing com­pa­nies in vio­la­tion, being intro­duced every year since 2010 with­out success.

The strike announce­ment simul­ta­ne­ous­ly came with announce­ment of a labor peace agree­ment” with Green Fleet Sys­tems, a com­pa­ny pre­vi­ous­ly tar­get­ed by port truck­ers. Accord­ing to a joint state­ment put out by the union and Green Fleet, dri­vers at the com­pa­ny have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to exer­cise their rights under the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act and, if they choose, to select” a union.

The agree­ment ends years of alleged Green Fleet union-bust­ing, bare­ly pre­vent­ing it from being sub­ject to this week’s strike, and comes at the heels of Green Fleet’s fil­ing for Chap­ter 11 bank­rupt­cy in Feb­ru­ary 2015. May­nard claims that com­pa­nies must change their busi­ness mod­els or face the same fate.

These com­pa­nies are hem­or­rhag­ing mon­ey in wage theft claims, and if they don’t start pay­ing it now, they are going to end up in bank­rupt­cy court them­selves,” May­nard says. They need to fol­low the law, reclas­si­fy their dri­vers and make a legit­i­mate indus­try out of drayage at the ports of LA and Long Beach.”

The ports of Los Ange­les and Long Beach, along with the rest of the West Coast’s ports, were the sites of major labor strife in Feb­ru­ary when stalled con­tract nego­ti­a­tions between the 20,000 dock­work­ers at the Inter­na­tion­al Long­shore Work­ers Union and employ­ers at the Pacif­ic Mar­itime Asso­ci­a­tion, a multi­na­tion­al ship­ping con­glom­er­ate, brought U.S trade in the region to a com­plete stand­still for six of ten days. The two sides were able to come to agree­ment with forced medi­a­tion by Sec­re­tary of Labor Tom Perez.

In the lead­up to medi­a­tion, amid back-and-forth accu­sa­tions of inten­tion­al work slow­downs, ILWU con­tend­ed that a por­tion of port con­ges­tion could be pinned on the exo­dus of truck dri­vers who can­not make a liv­ing wage.”

We believe strong­ly that as wages begin to rise at the ports and wage theft ends, we are going to see a sta­bi­liza­tion of the num­bers of dri­vers,” says May­nard, agree­ing with ILWU’s assess­ment of con­ges­tion prob­lems. We need good sol­id mid­dle-class jobs right here at home [to end] the dri­vers’ shortage.”

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue