L.A. port truckers rack up two wins, but also forced to strike
Justice For Port Drivers | website

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (PAI) — Chalk up two more wins for the good guys – working people – one in the state capital of Sacramento and the other with the federal government, in the never-ending struggle to bring fairness to workers, especially exploited truckers, in and around the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach.

One win came from the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, while the other came from the pro-worker forces in the state legislature and retiring Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

And both victories, especially the second one, are examples of what workers can accomplish if they get out to the polls this fall and elect pro-worker lawmakers and governors to state offices.

But the wins didn’t solve all the problems at the ports. The big one remaining is misclassification of the truckers as “independent contractors” and that forced hundreds of them to strike on October 1.

The Justice for Port Drivers advocacy group and the Teamsters union called the strike, the 16th in the last five years. But this time the drivers also want big customers of the trucking firms, such as Toyota and Amazon, to pressure the companies to recognize the port truckers as employees.

Making them employees would not only force the trucking companies to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, workers comp and jobless benefits insurance for the truckers but would also give the truckers the right to unionize. And calling drivers “independent contractors” permits rampant wage theft by their employers. Justice for Port Drivers calls that “indentured servitude.”

The two big wins came before the strike. In the first case, Wage and Hour nailed the guilty: California Cartage, one of the big exploitative trucking firms at the nation’s busiest port. The company moves U.S. Customs-selected cargo. With that comes the responsibility to pay prevailing wages and fringe benefits.

Wage and Hour busted Cal Cartage and ordered up back pay of $3.5 million to 1,416 warehouse workers. Cal Cartage had five subcontractors who also failed to pay appropriate rates.

One of Cal Cartage’s companies was hit earlier this year with a lawsuit by L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer for misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

That misclassification is another corporate scam to save money that has been fought by the Teamsters for years on the waterfront, as the union continues its campaign to organize the drivers.

By being mislabeled “independent contractors,” the firms not only save money but force the port truckers to pay for everything from gas to insurance to spare tires, while being at the mercy of California Cartage and its sister exploiters for business, schedules and loads.

As a result, the port truckers not only want to unionize with the Teamsters but are part of the national movement of low-wage workers, grouped under the banner of “Fight for $15 and a union.”

Just before the Labor Department came down like a ton of bricks on California Cartage, Brown signed into law SB1402, which will hammer retailers who use port trucking companies who have unpaid judgments for violating employment law, specifically abusing truckers hauling merchandise in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

In so many words, that means not only will the trucking companies be responsible for the back pay they owe the truckers, but so will the retailers who hire those cartage firms. And the biggest of those retail customers? Walmart.

“This is a great day in our years-long fight to stop this criminality against port drivers,” Teamsters Joint Council 42 President Randy Cammack said. “We have a great appreciation for the governor and State Sen. Ricardo Lara out of Bell Gardens. Lara authored 1402 and pushed it to its successful conclusion in Sacramento.” Lara, a Democrat, represents a district that covers Long Beach and surrounding areas.

California’s Labor Standards Enforcement division has secured over $45 million in judgments for 400 truck drivers, JC42 said. Now, the new law makes retailers jointly liable for violations when they hire port trucking companies with unpaid final judgments for failure to pay wages, imposing unlawful expenses, not paying payroll taxes, not providing work comp insurance and misclassifying workers as independent contractors.

“Port trucking providers in Los Angeles and Long Beach that exploit drivers, who are often immigrants with limited English proficiency,” said Harvard labor law student Segal Singh in the On Labor blog.

“Many of these companies force drivers to work around the clock and pay them far less than the minimum wage. When drivers can’t continue the meeting harsh, illegal demands, companies may seize their trucks — and refuse to return the payments drivers make towards owning them.”

USA Today found over $40 billion in labor judgments against just the companies that they profiled but discovered that companies would flout the judgments by shuttering the companies and opening under another name. California’s new law tackles this problem by blacklisting trucking companies that ignoring labor judgments and holding retailers liable when they turn a blind eye.”


Paul Mihalow
Paul Mihalow

Paul Mihalow is the editor of the Southern California Teamster.

Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.