Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.
Feb
2012
10

Seattle Truckers Take Misclassification Head On, Gain Support from Legislators



The epidemic of worker misclassification and has been documented on this site before and has now caused workers in Seattle to shutdown ports to protest the exploitation caused by incorrect labeling of “Independent Contractors.”

The unorganized laborers have gained the support of local teamsters who have helped them fight for fair treatment. Many of the affected workers are East African and their misclassification as independent contractors leaves them on the hook for expenses including maintenance and gas while shifting the burden of properly taxing employees away from the employer.

Demeke “Yared” Meconnen, one of the affected truckers, explains the situation:

Tuesday morning, an estimated 400 workers gathered outside of Edgmon Trucking in Kent to demand their paychecks. January paychecks were withheld by Edgmon Trucking owner Bob Edgmon as retaliation for the port shutdown. Edgmon leads a sort of double life as Country Western star Bobby Dean. Police were called to the scene:

The problems for the East African workers go beyond exploitative pay practices by wannabe country singers. They are regularly mistreated at the ports and have compared the situation to the unsegregated south:

Waterfront truckers are typically classified as “independent contractors” and paid $40 to $44 per load. After spending money to insure and maintain their aging trucks, drivers average around $30,000 a year net income. They are not allowed to use restrooms at the port gates, and say they are sometimes called the N-word or animals.

“It looks like Alabama — this is in Seattle, West Seattle!” said Aynalem Moba, a leader in the new Seattle Port Truckers Association.

Absurdly, workers are accountable for safety violations, a fact that is not sitting well with some legislators, thankfully:

…the Legislature is considering House Bill 2527, to make shipping companies responsible for any defects in chassis and containers, instead of the truckers — who are cited for safety violations in sweeps by the State Patrol. Dozens of truckers stopped running cargo to attend a committee hearing Monday in Olympia.

Officials from the state police joined the workers in Olympia to discuss the dangers they see everyday. According to InfoShop.org:

This week the truck drivers – who toil under the guise of false self-employment – are making it their job to sound the alarm on occupational hazards, overweight containers, shoddy equipment, risks to motorists, and the culprits responsible for these rampant safety violations: their employers and their giant retail shipper clients like Wal-Mart, Sears, and Target.

The trucking bosses at Pacer, Seattle Freight, Western Ports and others were stunned, but the state troopers weren’t. Washington’s top cops testified before lawmakers right alongside the workers, detailing a dizzying array of dangers associated with the drayage industry:

Chronic safety violations so serious that an investigative journalist discovered late last year that officers pulled 32% of rigs they inspected outside the terminals off the road — double the rate for trucks throughout the state. When specially trained troopers conducted more thorough inspections in 2011, King 5 TV reported, 58% of Port of Seattle cargo vehicles were yanked. And according to Captain Jason Berry’s testimony, an astonishing 80% have been put out of service during certain recent time periods.

The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports has a petition to show solidarity with port workers. With backing from the Teamsters and their story spreading through social networks, the Seattle port workers hope to eventually gain rightful classification.

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