L.A. Port Drivers Return To Work; Mayor Promises Probe of Abuses

LOS ANGELES–Ending a 5-day forced strike, some 120 port drivers in Los Angeles-Long Beach returned to work after a June 12 vote, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti promised to probe the job abuses that forced them onto the picket lines.

The “drayage” drivers at the port, the nation’s busiest, had to walk out against their three largest employers over their misclassification as “independent contractors” and company labor law-breaking.  They’ve also filed complaints against the firms with state and federal officials.

The drivers want to be classified as employees under labor law so they can organize with Southern California’s Teamsters and bargain for better and regular wages and better benefits. Being employees means the firms would also have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes and workers comp – which misclassification lets the companies escape — and also could pay for costs of operating the trucks, such as insurance and gasoline.

But their strike was also part of the mass movement nationwide by low-wage, ill-treated workers – Wal-Mart workers, fast food workers, warehouse workers, retail workers and others – for a living wage and the right to organize.  And by striking, the drayage drivers use their leverage over big retailers’ supply chains.

“Port drivers, the people working long hours to transport goods for corporations like Wal-Mart, began striking to demand their employers stop violating labor laws such as stealing wages, misclassifying drivers and intimidating drivers that speak out,” the Teamsters said in a statement.  Garcetti got the drivers to vote to return to work for a “cooling-off” period.

He did so by promising to investigate misclassification and other problems.

“The Port of Los Angeles is critical to our city and our national economy and we must ensure its operations are not disrupted,” his statement said.  “As Mayor, I take allegations regarding worker safety, poor working conditions and unfair labor practices very seriously.

“Accordingly, I am directing my Harbor Commission to fully investigate the serious health and safety issues raised at today’s commission meeting and report back to me.  While this investigation continues, I urge both parties to work with port executives and the Harbor Commission to ensure that this vital economic engine continues to serve this nation.”