At the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach truck drivers yesterday began a two-day strike to protest poor working conditions, specifically the fact that nearly 90 percent of drayage truckers at the ports are misclassified as independent contractors.
In November a similar strike took place. This week’s action differs, though, in that it is taking place at the port cargo terminals which could disrupt traffic and force International Longshore Workers Union members to decide if they want to cross a picket line to get to work.
Stakes are high for the truckers who just this year have begun to break through the legal detritus of misclassification. According to the Los Angeles Times, port drivers have filed more than 500 complaints of wage theft and misclassification with the state Department of Industrial Relations. To date, 32 truckers have won a case and collecting $3.8 million in back wages and penalties from 13 trucking firms. Workers also scored a victory against the trucking firm Pacific 9 Transportation when the company agreed to put up signs notifying workers of their right to organize.
As Rebecca Smith, deputy director for the National Employment Law Project, told the Los Angeles Times:
“The era of misclassification is over. When you see that nearly every relevant federal and state agency is coming to the same conclusion — that these workers are misclassified — the industry should be sitting up and taking notice.”
The trucking companies are unlikely to go down without a fight. Alex Cherin, who has been publically representing the affected companies, dismissed the strikes telling the Associated Press they were “part of a Teamsters union plan to push the truckers to organize.” Last month he claimed that a majority of misclassified workers were “happy with their jobs.”
The loca media begs to differ, however. The Los Angeles Times highlighted 28-year-old Dennis Martinez as an example:
Martinez has hauled cargo for three years and says he often works more than 10 hours a day, six days a week.
Because he is classified as a contractor by the company he hauls cargo for, Martinez says, he is expected to pay for fuel, maintenance and insurance on the truck he drives. He says he typically makes about $400 a week, which works out to an hourly rate below the state’s minimum wage of $9 an hour.
“This system the companies have has to change,” he said. “It’s been hard for me and for my family because there’s not enough, even if I work every day and work long hours.”
According to the Teamsters-backed Justice for Port Drivers group, the two-day action is aimed at “years of wage theft and unfair treatment” and “demands an end to violations of workers’ rights and the pervasive and illegal misclassification as independent contractors.” The group argues that the current setup creates a scenario in which the truckers haul nearly $4 billion of cargo a day to fill the shelves of stores like Walmart and Home Depot while being paid below the federal minimum wage.
Solidarity actions took place on Monday in Savannah, GA where truck drivers have been organizing to fight back against similar abuses throughout the past year:
“As it is, after all their out-of-pocket expenses, these drivers are working for pennies on the dollar, living paycheck to paycheck” said [Carol] Cauley, who has been driving for C&K Trucking for nearly a decade.
“We really need to get that changed.”