Teamsters, lawmakers bring misclassification of port drivers issue to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON—The Teamsters and lawmakers representing the nation’s two biggest ports, Los Angeles and New York, have brought the long-running battle over clean air there and misclassification of port truck drivers as “independent contractors” to Capitol Hill.

In an outdoor press conference and in legislation dropped in the hopper – where the House’s ruling Republicans may well maroon it – Reps. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., declared the misclassification should be overturned.

As “independent contractors,” the port truck drivers lack worker rights, including the right to organize, though the Teamsters have been trying to unionize them for years. The drivers also must pay their own and the employers’ share of Social Security and Medicare withholding taxes. And they must pay their own insurance, gas and tires.

They don’t get workers comp or unemployment benefits, either.

The drivers repeatedly take their port trucking firms to court and to the California state labor commissioner, arguing they should be “employees,” covered by labor laws, including the right to organize. They’ve won almost every time, but the employers have fought back by sham bankruptcies, allowing them to reopen with the same warehouses, same managers, same trucks and no money owed to the drivers.

That led the Teamsters to turn to the federal lawmakers.

“Hundreds of port truck drivers are being forced into working as independent operators as a way for their employer to pay them below minimum wage and deny them benefits, creating an unlivable wage for them and their families,” Napolitano said. “These drivers are compelled to lease trucks at prices they cannot afford. It is unthinkable that companies can continue to get away with this scheme to underpay hard working truck drivers.”

“For years, port truck drivers across the country have been forced to work long hours, often exceeding maximum hours of service set by the U.S. to keep America safe, in order to pay the company to lease and maintain their truck,” Fred Potter, the Teamsters vice president in charge of its Port Division. “Napolitano’s bill would create a taskforce to review the broken system and crack down on bad actors.”

Nadler said his measure would tackle the pollution problem, particularly acute at the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach. It would tell federal trucking regulators to “require ports to address truck pollution and congestion.”

That’s long overdue, Teamsters Local 848 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Tate said. “In the current inefficient port industry, drivers are often forced to idle for hours at marine terminals in trucks spewing filth into the air,” he said. “The ports need the ability to clean up harbor communities with the ability to own the retailers, not the drivers, accountable for necessary changes that would clean the air.”

Source: PAI