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Wrongfully Fired L.A. Port Truckers Reinstated by Judge; Misclassification Case Heads to NLRB

via LaborNotes

via LaborNotes

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On Tuesday, a federal judge reinstated two Green Fleet Systems port truck drivers who argued they were illegally fired during a labor dispute with the company.  Green Fleet and several other port trucking companies have been the targets of protests and actions by drivers, many at the port of Los Angeles, who feel they are misclassified as independent contractors.  The drivers have received assistance from the Teamsters union in organizing a series of one-day strikes and an eventual indefinite strike.  The judge’s ruling could provide momentum for the truckers who are currently awaiting their case to be heard by the National Labor Relations Boar (NLRB).

From the Los Angeles Times:

U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez ordered the company to reinstate Amilcar Cardona and Mateos Mares pending the outcome of a National Labor Relations Board case that has accused Green Fleet of more than 50 labor law violations.

In the NLRB matter, Cardona and Mares allege that the firm retaliated against them for union activity, filing claims for lost wages and asserting that they were regular employees, not independent contractors as the company has claimed. Independent contractors are not covered by federal labor laws.

“This decision lets us return to work and continue to fight for justice and a union contract,” Mares said.

Gutierrez reinstated the drivers, saying that it was likely they would prevail at the NLRB hearing and there would be irreparable harm to both men if they were not returned to work.

Judge Gutierrez’s decision includes a cease and desist order to “prevent Green Fleet from threatening to fire union supporters, making threatening remarks, creating an impression of surveillance, limiting employees’ access to company property and interrogating employees about their union activity.”  If the NLRB rules that the drivers are in fact employees of the company it could send shockwaves throughout the industry where misclassification is used as a business model to lower labor costs.  

The stakes are high, so the large trucking companies have been using union-busting techniques to thwart driver demands to be recognized as employees.  As we wrote in June, Green Fleet went so far as to employ spies to monitor driver behavior, while threatening the lives of those they believed were pro-union.  Gutierrez’s decision affirms the basis of the drivers’ argument in their case before the NLRB, which states that Green Fleet Systems took actions to destroy the lawful organizing efforts of its drivers.  

Julie Gutman Dickinson, attorney for the truckers and the Teamsters union port division, thinks the ruling lays the groundwork for a sea change in business practices.

“This sends a message throughout the Port of Los Angeles and the shipping industry,” she said, “that misclassified drivers are in fact employees.”


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