Today, hundreds of Port of Los Angeles truckers will participate in a one-day strike against three companies — Green Fleet Systems, American Logistics International, and Pac 9 — for what they view as retaliation against workers who are organizing and exposing wrongdoing. The truckers are being backed by the Teamsters union.
This is the latest in a series of similar strikes by workers in the low-wage supply chain and follows the model used most recently by fast food workers nationwide. Truckers working for Pac 9 are being misclassified as independent contractors and are thus not afforded the same legal protections as traditional employees. Driver Jose Galindo explained the classification difference:
“Like employees, they tell us where to go – we can’t negotiate on many things,” said Galindo. But “we pay for gas, tires, maintenance” out of pocket, “even though the truck is not ours.” Lacking minimum-wage protection, he added, “Sometimes I can be stuck at the ports for three or four hours” waiting in line, “and the company doesn’t pay us for the time.” Galindo told Salon that after he ripped a shoulder tendon while working on the landing gears of his truck, his disability payments were cut off early because the company told the government he was a contractor.
In the trucking industry and beyond, misclassification is commonplace. The Teamsters estimate that four-fifths of the workers in the industry are misclassified. This misclassification has become a part of the business model for many logistics companies because they can cut down on labor costs by providing little to no benefits to workers. Through misclassification they also remain off the hook for paying into safety net and benefits programs on behalf of the employee.
Rebecca Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, addressed the “new structure” of the American trucking workplace:
“We’re seeing all sorts of businesses designing new structures of work. And many of these structures – and independent contractor misclassification is prime among them – separate workers from their labor rights, from their basic workplace benefits that are guaranteed.” That trend “really is turning the workplace into a place where people can’t support their families,” said Smith, and “transforming us into a nation of low-wage workers.”
The strikes began at 5AM PST and will continue through the day until Pac 9 begins its 5 PM strike. For up to date coverage you can follow Salon writer Josh Eidelson on Twitter (@JoshEidelson).