L.A. Toll Group drivers have ratified their first contract as members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters marking the first such contract in the dryage industry in 30 years. The workers, who haul apparel and merchandise from the L.A. Ports, will receive a $6 raise, paid sick leave, paid overtime, guaranteed shift hours, a pension plan and more affordable health care coverage.
The typical port driver earns $28,873 a year before taxes while averaging 59-hour work weeks. Jose Ortega Jr. is a driver who represented his co-workers on the bargaining committee along with representatives from the Teamsters national office and Local 848 in Long Beach. He told the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports,
“Justice…it’s sort of an indescribable feeling, but it is overwhelming and incredible to finally have the American Dream at our reach.”
The workers were formerly among the most underpaid in the industry, but Ortega and his coworkers will see hourly wages rise to $19.75 with overtime earning $28. Worker conditions and access to quality health care are improved.
“As a truck driver, I wanted the assurance that things would be okay for my daughter if I was injured, that I could take her to see the doctor if she got sick,” the 36-year-old explained. “When we started organizing ourselves, we weren’t asking for anything out of this world. To be treated with dignity. A fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work. Decent, sanitary facilities to make a pit stop, rest, eat…you know, perform our jobs safely.
“But we knew winning basic respect would take a fight at every turn. So when we were afraid to lose our jobs, we asked our allies for help. When we were afraid to take action, we prayed for the courage to speak out. And we always stuck together, and never ever gave up.”
Other highlights of the contract include:
Fair wages –The day shift hourly rate increased from $12.72 to $19, and the night shift hourly rate from $13.22 to $19.75. In addition to the over $6/hour increase in hourly pay rates, drivers won $0.50/hour per year raises over the life of the contract, giving Toll port drivers over a 60% hourly wage boost over the life of the 3-year contract. Overtime pay of time-and-half kicks in after a typical full time 40-hour week, which is extremely rare in an industry where truckers are exempt from federal overtime laws and an average week hovers around 60 hours.
Secure retirement –Prior to the contract, less than a dozen Toll drivers could spare any extra dollars, even pre-tax, to participate in the corporate 401(k) plan. As Teamster Local 848 members, they have been automatically enrolled in the union’s Western Conference Pension Trust. Such a retirement plan at the port has rarely been seen since trucking was deregulated in 1980. Toll will make a pension contribution of $1/hour per driver until 2014, and a $1.50/hour per driver by 2015.
Affordable health care – The Toll Group health care plan was financially out of reach for most of its truck drivers. The few who managed to meet the premium, deductibles and copayments will now keep significant more money in their pocket without sacrificing coverage, and the rest of their co-workers finally have access to quality, affordable health insurance coverage, including dental and vision care. The company will pay 95% of the premium for individuals and 90% for family coverage. Drivers who previously had to shell out $125/month for individual or $400/month per family will drop to roughly $30 or $150, respectively.
Stable work hours and paid time off – Most truck drivers lose a day’s pay if they cannot work, are penalized by dispatchers for being unable to haul a load, and lack paid sick or holiday leave, making it stressful for family budgets and planning. But Toll drivers made substantial gains in all these areas. They will receive seven paid holidays, three paid personal days, and six paid sick days annually. They will accrue one or two weeks of vacation within the first two years of service, with longtime employees earning up to a month. They can also bank on guaranteed full- or half-day of pay regardless of seasonal slowdowns if they are scheduled to work.
Incentives to grow responsibly, level competition, and raise market standards – The agreement establishes a high-road business model for the port trucking industry that recognizes Toll’s competitors have not yet embraced livable wages and working conditions. To encourage a more level playing field and wide-scale unionization, drivers will have the ability to re-negotiate for improvements when a simple majority of the Southern California market is organized.
The contract comes nearly two years after the L.A. Toll Group began to fight back.
The landmark agreement culminates more than 24 months of worker struggle and employer resistance in which these truckers – aided by a community coalition, their children, and clergy – borrowed bullhorns, leafleted consumers, gathered signatures practiced their picket lines, staged noisy protests, crashed shareholder meetings in a dogged campaign to end the Third World-like working conditions they once routinely endured.
Unions have been making waves in industries that have previously been dominated by non-union workers. This dedication to providing safer working conditions is ringing out beyond the specific men and women who organize according to Toll spokesman Christopher Whitefield:
“An important part of the agreement is a commitment from the Teamsters union to work towards improving conditions for all employees at the port. We now look to the Teamsters to honour their commitment to raise the standards of all employees within the industry to ensure they meet the high standard we are providing to our employees.”