West Coast Truckers Poised to Strike, Say They’re Owed Nearly $1 Billion in Stolen Wages

Mario Vasquez

Port drivers from IBT deliver a petition on June 5th demanding to be reclassified as employees.

Less than two months after par­tic­i­pat­ing in a strike against truck­ing com­pa­nies alleged­ly com­mit­ting wage theft at the Ports of Los Ange­les and Long Beach, a super­ma­jor­i­ty of dri­vers at Inter­modal Bridge Trans­port (IBT) are poised to strike in order to pres­sure IBT into cor­rect­ing their alleged mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion as inde­pen­dent contractors.

IBT, which moves mer­chan­dise for Sony, Toy­ota, Gen­er­al Elec­tric, Tar­get and JC Pen­ney, among oth­ers, is a sub­sidiary of the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment-owned COSCO Logis­tics Amer­i­c­as net­work and employes 88 dri­vers, accord­ing to the union sup­port­ing dri­ver efforts, Team­sters Local 848.

The dri­vers con­test that their sta­tus as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors is wrong and cre­ates wage theft that amounts to almost $1 bil­lion year­ly in Cal­i­for­nia alone, accord­ing to esti­mates by local allies.

Although IBT pro­vides the vehi­cle that truck­ers dri­ve (which is stan­dard in an employ­er-employ­ee rela­tion­ship), IBT has a leas­ing arrange­ment with the dri­vers to pass along the costs of busi­ness on to them. They deduct repa­ra­tions, they deduct diesel fuel, they deduct any­thing they see con­ve­nient from the pay­check,” explains Hum­ber­to Canales of a fel­low truck­ing com­pa­ny, XPO Logistics.

Their alleged mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion as inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors makes the truck­ers inel­i­gi­ble for not only the much-pub­li­cized recent $15 min­i­mum wage ordi­nance in Los Ange­les, but also for unionization.

On June 5, IBT truck­ers deliv­ered a peti­tion signed by 59 dri­vers to exec­u­tives at IBT, COSCO and their For­tune 500 clients at the Ports of Los Ange­les and Long Beach, in order to inform man­age­ment that they had cho­sen Team­sters Local 848 as their col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The dri­vers hope that the let­ter will stim­u­late move­ment on re-clas­si­fi­ca­tion, and are threat­en­ing to strike if the out­come is not in their favor.

We will fight for as long as it takes and are even ready to go on strike again. But all of that dis­rup­tion and expense can be avoid­ed if the com­pa­ny sim­ply choos­es to do the right thing and rec­og­nize our rights as employ­ees and right to become mem­bers of the Union,” says IBT dri­ver Hec­tor Flores.

Barb May­nard, an offi­cial at Team­sters Local 848, points to April’s truck­er strike as a cat­a­lyst for the pro-union mood that cul­mi­nat­ed with the June 5 let­ter, say­ing that while only 8 dri­vers went on strike on the first day, by week’s end that num­ber grew to 57. They went out on strike, and the strike grew — their num­bers kept grow­ing. … They were orga­niz­ing them­selves in the mid­dle of the strike. It was real­ly incred­i­ble,” May­nard tells In These Times.

Team­sters Local 848 says that IBT dri­vers were par­tic­u­lar­ly embold­ened by the union­iza­tion of truck­ers at Ship­pers Trans­port Express, whose pre­vi­ous legal chal­lenges had suc­cess­ful­ly com­pelled the truck­ing com­pa­ny into reclas­si­fi­ca­tion of their work­ers. COSCO and SSA Marine, the respec­tive par­ent com­pa­nies of IBT and Ship­pers, togeth­er own and oper­ate Pacif­ic Con­tain­er Ter­mi­nals, a 256-acre marine ter­mi­nal at the Port of Long Beach. Dri­vers at both com­pa­nies were close enough to observe the ben­e­fits of full employ­ment sta­tus and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, work­ers say.

Dri­vers at Ship­pers Trans­port Express, who were con­vert­ed to employ­ees in Jan­u­ary and soon there­after became Team­sters, had to fight through the courts to get their rights. We are hop­ing to avoid that long and expen­sive legal process because we know that we are mis­clas­si­fied at IBT — just as they were at Ship­pers,” Flo­res says.

IBT truck­ers are also cur­rent­ly involved in class action and indi­vid­ual law­suits alleg­ing wage theft and mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion. The union expects this lit­i­ga­tion to be ruled in favor of the truckers.

[All dri­ver-truck­ing com­pa­ny lit­i­ga­tion] is the same. The work­ing cir­cum­stances are all the same — exact­ly how these com­pa­nies set up their leases…what deduc­tions they make,” May­nard says. There’s no rea­son to believe that, if these dri­vers do have to take their cas­es all the way through the court sys­tem, which takes years, that the out­come would be any dif­fer­ent than what it’s been at Ship­pers or at any place else.”

Mean­while, Los Ange­les May­or Eric Garcetti has recent­ly spo­ken out against mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion and relat­ed wage theft. The mis­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of port truck dri­vers is not the gripe of a few dri­vers but a bat­tle cry of a sys­temic prob­lem that must be addressed,” Garcetti said at a May press con­fer­ence, while cel­e­brat­ing the cre­ation of a new 100%-employee-driver truck­ing com­pa­ny called Eco Flow.

The $15 min­i­mum wage ordi­nance in Los Ange­les also includes fund­ing for a new Wage Enforce­ment Divi­sion that would have five inves­ti­ga­tors to crack down on wage theft local­ly. Accord­ing to a March 2015 study pub­lished by UC Berkeley’s Insti­tute for Research on Labor and Employ­ment, San Fran­cis­co has the same num­ber of inves­ti­ga­tors in its own wage enforce­ment team, but because the city has a low­er con­cen­tra­tion of low-wage work­ers than Los Ange­les, inves­ti­ga­tors there cov­er 20,000 low wage work­ers each. The study says that Los Angeles’s Wage Enforce­ment Divi­sion would require 25 inves­ti­ga­tors to reach such an aver­age of 20,000 per investigator.

As pro­gres­sives across the coun­try cel­e­brate the pas­sage of yet anoth­er suc­cess­ful $15 min­i­mum wage cam­paign, and con­ser­v­a­tives damn the unions who wish to col­lec­tive­ly bar­gain­ing for low-wage earn­ers, IBT truck­ers will eye a pos­si­ble strike in order to sim­ply qual­i­fy for a min­i­mum wage at all.

Accord­ing to May­nard, IBT truck­ers are not going to sit around and wait for either may­or to take action. … [Dri­vers] are going to con­tin­ue to fight back. Every day that they are mis­clas­si­fied is anoth­er day that their wages are being stolen,” she says.

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;/*]]>*/.
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