Truck drivers spend unpaid hours awaiting assignments from dispatchers, as well as burning up time at vehicle inspections or completing shipping paperwork—time that would be compensated if they were classified as hourly or salaried employees, instead of as contractors.
Tony Sheldon, an internationally known trade unionist and the national secretary of Australia’s Transport Workers Union, recently attended a Las Vegas convention of world labor representatives, hosted by the Teamsters. Capital & Main caught up with him later in Los Angeles.
What if millions of American workers were being denied health insurance, job security and the most basic legal protections, from overtime pay to workers compensation to the right to join a union?
If legendary labor activist Joe Hill were alive today — and some contend that he is — he would have plenty to say about the state of the American worker. And the country, if it listened, would have plenty to learn.
Hill, who was executed in Utah 100 years ago this month, was an unapologetically radical union organizer whose rough-hewn songs and poems matched the brutal working conditions endured by tens of millions of Americans in the early 20th century. While his lyrics might at first sound anachronistic to contemporary audiences, their underlying spirit speaks directly to the experiences of far too many in our often unforgiving 21st century economy.
“Would you have freedom from wage slavery… Would you from mis’ry and hunger be free,” from Hill’s 1913 anthem “There Is Power in a Union,” could easily have been inspired by the thousands of truck drivers who haul goods to and from the nation’s largest port in Los Angeles.
Two days ago, with truck driver strikes expanding at Los Angeles-area ports, Capital & Main shared a conversation with a pair of drivers who detailed safety concerns about a trucking system that imposes long hours and unaffordable maintenance burdens. As the strikes spread among trucking companies and into port warehouses, those safety concerns took center stage with a shocking accident.
On Tuesday afternoon a shipping container slipped from a truck and killed a bicyclist in Carson. The container had struck a railroad bridge, though a witness said that the truck may not have been appropriate for the job.
“I’m assuming that they’re hiring those flatbeds because yesterday it was a flatbed too,” David Alva told ABC7 News. The day before, Alva saw a similar accident that did not involve injuries. “Those containers weigh from 40,000 [pounds] and up. They just strap them on with straps,
“I want this message to be loud and clear: Until Pacific 9 reclassifies its workers, until they return our wages, until they obey the law, we will not stop the fight.”
– Amador Rojas, port truck driver
As Capital & Main reported yesterday, drivers with one of the larger trucking companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike just before dawn Monday. They struck XPO Logistics, a major international freight transportation company, while at the same time other drivers picketed Pacific 9 Transportation as they entered the 15th week of a strike against that company.
These drivers are on the front lines of a critical fight impacting the future of work in the United States. “Misclassification,” a condition in which companies wrongly treat their workers as “independent contractors” rather than as employees, is a growing problem that is receiving increasing attention.
Truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will begin a strike at 6 a.m. today against local subsidiaries of XPO Logistics, a Connecticut-headquartered freight transportation company. The drivers are taking the action because they say that XPO misclassifies them as independent contractors rather than as employees – a practice that allows companies to claw back pay, duck labor standards and pass vehicle maintenance costs onto drivers.
Misclassification policies amount to wage theft, according to labor advocates and increasingly one-sided rulings by courts and regulatory agencies. Studies have found that between 10 and 20 percent of employers misclassify at least one employee in nearly every American industry, from construction to home care to janitorial services to transportation.
At the same time that XPO’s drivers will be walking picket lines, drivers protesting similar treatment from Pacific 9 Transportation, another freight-hauling company servicing the ports, will enter the 15th week of a strike against that business.
As the strike by a couple hundred harbor truck drivers enters its third day, work stoppages have spread to a Union Pacific rail yard located in Lincoln Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles. A rally will be held there today, Wednesday, April 29, to protest the theft of the drivers’ wages by port hauling firms. It takes place 2:30-4 p.m. at the Union Pacific Railroad Trailer and Container Intermodal Facility, 1041 Richmond Street.
At the heart of the dispute is the continuing fight of short-haul drivers to be classified as company employees by the trucking firms they work for. Currently, most drivers are considered “independent contractors,” a job category that denies the drivers basic labor benefits and rights, while placing on them the costly burden of paying for the maintenance, fuel and insurance for their vehicles.
On Monday, drivers for Pacific 9 Transportation, Intermodal Bridge Transport,
Steve Clemons is Washington editor-at-large for The Atlantic, whose spin-off site, CityLab, covers new ideas and issues facing urban metro areas worldwide. Each year CityLab convenes a gathering of global city leaders in person to discuss innovative ideas and projects that are emerging in urban communities. This year CityLab’s conference was held at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Shortly afterward, Capital & Main spoke to Clemons. In this video clip he speaks of L.A.’s past and its new allure.
Also Watch: Steve Clemons on Government
Why are the port truck drivers on strike? It is well known that the U.S. economy relies in part on jobs generated or networked around the imports of manufactured commodities. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach form a nexus of the global supply chain, where multinational corporations focus on every opportunity to keep labor costs low and profits high. One of the unrecognized links in the global supply chain is the port truck driver.
Port truck drivers play a pivotal role in the distribution of goods that makes them a critical piece of the profit puzzle. Professional drivers work long hours hauling nearly $4 billion worth of cargo every day from American seaports for companies like Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Costco and Polo/Ralph Lauren. Yet they often receive paychecks below the minimum wage, and on occasion, end up owing money to the firms that hire them.
Due to the privatization policies of the Nixon-Reagan era,
For the fourth time within a year, truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have gone on strike. The drivers allege that two hauling companies, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation, have been retaliating against workers challenging their company-defined status as independent contractors, or who have expressed pro-union sympathies. At the heart of the drivers’ complaint is the charge that the two companies have broken the letter and spirit of a cooling-off agreement brokered by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last July.
That agreement, which called on trucking companies to take back strikers without retaliating against them, had ended a weeklong walkout by the drivers over the issues of job classifications and working conditions.
At a waterfront press conference held today in Wilmington, Teamster union activist Alex Paz told listeners, “We are fed up with the injustices committed by companies that haven’t gotten the message yet” about the need to honor the cooling-off agreement.
For Victor Vitela life revolves around work. A reserved man with dark hair and a powerful frame, Victor makes his living driving an 18-wheeler loaded with cargo back and forth from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the Inland Empire. His tone is matter of fact when he talks about his job with QTS Inc., a Gardena-based hauling firm. Victor often works late, until three or four in the morning, leaving just enough time to catch a few hours of sleep before the day begins again at 7 a.m. In his line of work, 20-hour days are the norm. That doesn’t leave enough time to return to his family in Ventura County, so he spends Monday through Friday living out of his truck.
Victor may spend a huge amount of time working for QTS, but you wouldn’t know it from his paycheck, which is eaten up by the kind of expenses and deductions many employers would be expected to pay – the insurance on his truck,
Los Angeles/Long Beach Ports truck drivers Mateo Mares and Amicar Cardona have returned to the jobs they had been fired from– not as misclassified “independent contractors,” but as regular company employees covered by federal labor laws. The men were dismissed by Green Fleet Systems (GFS) last January for disputing their contractor status, for filing state claims for stolen wages and for their open support of the Teamsters union.
In October, after a federal district court had ruled in Mares and Cardona’s favor and ordered the two drivers reinstated, GFS sought an emergency injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit. The appeals court denied GFS’s request, setting the stage for Mares and Cardona’s triumphant return to work today.
“America’s port drivers are the poster child for wage theft in America,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “Like millions of workers, drivers are treated like regular employees but illegally compensated as independent contractors.
Over a span of 20 summer days truck driver Daniel Linares had moved some 110 cargo containers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for Pacific 9, a drayage company based in Carson.
Linares’ August 15, 2014 check showed his gross earnings to be $3191.87. But another line item on the check stub offered a nasty payday shock: By Pac 9’s calculations Linares owed the company $296.47. In other words, he had received a “negative” paycheck.
Pac 9, a company whose “180-plus independent drivers” annually deliver more than 100,000 containers from Southern California’s ports and whose “customer list includes many of the most recognizable Fortune 100 companies,” according to the company website, had handed Linares the bill for the insurance, registration and other expenses incurred for the truck he leases from the company. He had already paid up-front for its fuel.
Truck drivers in California’s ports have been fighting for decades for rights most workers take for granted: The right to a minimum wage, the right to proper employee classification, and especially the right to form a union. In the wake of the deregulatory wave of the 1980s, downward pressure on trucking companies led to destructive competition, which led first to union-busting, and then to the widespread misclassification of truck drivers as independent contractors. This, despite the fact that legal and factual analyses have shown – theoretically in 2010 and based on a wave of then-recent rulings in 2014 – that these truck drivers are subject to the control and direction of the trucking companies they haul for. (Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the 2014 report.) Under any legal test, these are employee drivers being deprived of their employee rights; their condition has been compared to that of sharecropping and involuntary servitude.
One hundred twenty port truck drivers, responding to a mediation initiative from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, agreed to end their strike Friday evening and are returning to work today. The Unfair Labor Practice walkout, which had no fixed end date, began June 7 against three harbor trucking companies (Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation) that port haulers allege commit wage theft, engage in workplace retaliation for union organizing and misclassify their drivers as “independent contractors” rather than company employees.
The five-day strike was unprecedented for its length – and for the bad publicity it splashed on the three companies, which have also been on the losing end of a string of labor court and National Labor Relations Board rulings regarding their treatment of truck drivers. The strike saw the brief shutdown of several marine terminals, an impromptu concert for the strikers by protest rocker Tom Morello and a secondary protest in Manhattan Beach aimed at the Skechers shoe company,
Friday ended an historic chapter in the life of the Los Angeles-Long Beach waterfront as 120 truck drivers toughed out a weeklong Unfair Labor Practice strike. The work stoppage was aimed at three companies (Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation) that port haulers allege commit wage theft, engage in workplace retaliation for union organizing and misclassify their drivers as “independent contractors” rather than company employees. Such a distinction allows the firms to treat their workers as second-class citizens and to avoid contributing payroll taxes to the state and federal governments.
With no end of the strike in sight, the week nevertheless drew to a close on a celebratory note, as seen in these photographs. A rally attended by the drivers and their supporters was held outside the Terminal Island facility of Yusen Terminals, where a cumbia band, Los Jornaleros del Norte, underscored the crowd’s high spirits.
Throughout the course of the L.A./Long Beach port driver strike, Capital & Main will be running photos from the marine terminals and truck yards where drivers and their supporters have gathered.
One hundred twenty truck drivers who haul freight to and from the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on an Unfair Labor Practice strike Monday against the three companies they work for. The work stoppage, which has no announced end date, was called to protest alleged retaliation by Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation, as well as the drivers’ long hours and low wages. Perhaps more important, the strikers are motivated by their determination to end the companies’ practice of classifying drivers as “independent contractors” – a status that allows the firms to treat their workers as second-class citizens and to avoid contributing payroll taxes to the state and federal governments.
If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about down at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, where drivers have been on an Unfair Labor Practice strike since Monday, think Nike during the 1990s. Remember the barrage of news stories and reports about the horrendous conditions endured by workers at plants run by Nike contractors? Remember how the company tried for years to distance itself from the practice of its contractors, even though it had the power all along to put an end to the exploitation?
The same story is unfolding right now in Southern California, where multinational retailers are refusing to take responsibility for the egregious abuses of their contractors. A case in point is Skechers, which recently supplanted New Balance as the nation’s fifth-largest athletic footwear brand.
Based in Manhattan Beach, Skechers is experiencing enormous growth in sales and profits. In the first quarter of 2014,
One hundred twenty truck drivers who haul freight to and from the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike Monday against the three companies they work for. The work stoppage, which has no announced end date, was called to protest alleged retaliation by Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation, as well as the drivers’ long hours and low wages. Perhaps more important, the strikers are motivated by their determination to end the companies’ practice of classifying drivers as “independent contractors” – a status that allows the firms to treat their workers as second-class citizens and to avoid contributing payroll taxes to the state and federal governments.
On Wednesday rock-and-protest icon Tom Morello showed up on Terminal Island to support the strikers. The Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Watchman singer strummed a guitar labeled “Black Spartacus”