Misclassification, Company Labor Law-Breaking Again Forces L.A.-Long Beach Port Truckers to Strike

LOS ANGELES-LONG BEACH, Calif. (PAI)–Continuing company misclassification of truckers as “independent contractors” and a company’s retaliatory – and labor law-breaking – firing of drivers for their union activism again forced more than 120 short-haul “drayage” truckers at the nation’s biggest, busiest port, Los Angeles-Long Beach, to strike, on July 7.

But unlike earlier 1-day or 2-day walkouts, this time the drivers, who want to unionize with the Teamsters, did not say when they will return.  A new round of talks between the drivers and port representatives was scheduled for July 11.

The strike is 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.

 “We were fed up.  It just got to the point where the drivers are done,” said Alex Paz, a former driver with TTSI, one of the three big trucking firms at the ports.  Paz was fired in late May,.  The Teamsters filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board saying TTSI illegally retaliated against him after he spoke out regarding purported labor law violations. 

  Another NLRB charge reported death threats against the truckers.

 The drivers say that by deliberately misclassifying them as “independent contractors,” the three big short-haul firms that hire them to transport goods from the ports to inland warehouses force them to pay for their own gas, insurance and other expenses, while completely controlling their working conditions.

  And the firms also escape paying Social Security taxes, Medicare withholding taxes, workers comp and unemployment insurance, leaving the truckers unprotected, the drivers say.  And as “independent contractors,” they technically lack the right to organize. 

  One of their demands, which California officials and federal authorities have backed at one of the big three trucking firms, is an end to the misclassification.  That would make them “employees” and legally organizable.

“In a desperate quest to maintain the status quo, company owners are firing, intimidating, and counter-suing drivers, counter-suing state agencies, filing appeals on trial court decisions, and filing to compel arbitration to stay government proceedings,” the union’s Justice for Port Drivers campaign said in a statement.

  “These companies are continuing to retaliate against their employees for engaging in union and protected concerted activities. They are threatening and otherwise intimidating, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

 “Port truck drivers work long hours hauling nearly $4 billion worth of cargo every day, yet often receive paychecks below the minimum wage,” it concluded.

 Meanwhile, on the East Coast, drivers who serve the port of Savannah, Ga., members of Teamsters Local 728, have had it up to here with misclassification of their West Coast colleagues.  They want the Georgia Ports Authority to publicly condemn the practice.

 Local 728 called the Los Angeles-Long Beach walkout “an escalation in the ongoing fight by port truck drivers at the Port of Savannah and across the U.S.”

  The Georgia local’s officers noted that a full-time employee would make thousands of dollars more than an independent contractor. Studies have shown the Los Angeles-Long Beach trucking firms save $4,000 per driver yearly in pay, taxes and government payments.