L.A. port truckers win again, misclassified as independent contractors

LOS ANGELES (PAI) – The underpaid, exploited port truck drivers at the nation’s largest cargo terminal, Los Angeles-Long Beach, have won another round in their long fight for fair pay, job protections and the right to organize.

That’s because California state Labor Commissioner Julie Su ruled in December that one of the big port trucking firms at Los Angeles-Long Beach, Pacific 9, misclassified its 38 drivers as “independent contractors” under labor law. They should be “employees,” she said.

Because they really are employees, Pacific 9 owes them $7 million in back pay, Su ruled. It also must now pay workers comp, payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security, and unemployment insurance for them – all costs it had avoided by misclassifying the truckers.

And it must repay the 38 drivers for the past costs they incurred when Pacific 9 forced them to pay for “unlawful deductions like permits, license fees, fuel, road taxes, inspections, parking, registration, truck (rental) payments, truck insurance and even port entry fees,” Su’s agency ruled. She also ordered Pac 9 to pay drivers for truck repairs and maintenance. 

And as “employees,” the drivers have the right to organize, too. The Teamsters and their Southern California Joint Council 42 have waged a years-long campaign to both win employee status for the thousands of port truckers and to organize them.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach port truckers are one of many national groups of underpaid, exploited workers, many misclassified as “independent contractors,” who have taken to the streets in the last two years to demand living wages and workers’ rights. Others include retail, Walmart, warehouse and fast food workers and home health care aides.

Speaking for his colleagues, Pacific 9 driver Daniel Linares told local media that “We have finally had our day in court and we are extremely grateful that the government has realized that it isn’t just a handful of drivers that are misclassified-it is all of us.”

“There are hundreds of trucking companies at the ports and the vast majority are misclassifying drivers,” said Julie Gutmann Dickinson, a pro-worker attorney who represents many of the port truckers. Su called driver misclassification routine in the port trucking industry. Her agency is still mulling over cases involving other trucking companies.

Those other drivers haul cargo, after it is unloaded from freighters at Los Angeles-Long Beach, to the warehouses in California’s “Inland Empire.” If the drivers are “independent contractors,” they must pay for their own gas, tires, insurance and repairs – and for both the employer and employee shares of Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes. And Pac9 now forces them to rent their trucks, too, at $125 weekly, because the drivers’ own older trucks don’t meet state emissions standards.

As a result, such a typical truck driver often took home a net paycheck of about $20 weekly.

The warehouse workers are also exploited: They’re long-term “permatemps,” also misclassified as “independent contractors” by the subcontractors who run the warehouses for the big retailers – Walmart, Target and the like – who actually import the goods.

Photo: Port truckers protest. AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.