Next step in California drayage wars: bill would look to punish retailers using sanctioned trucking companies

 (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

(Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

The state of California has seen many lawsuits slapped on trucking companies alleging labor abuses against truck drivers who haul their goods, especially in the port drayage sector. Recently, a class action lawsuit was filed against XPO Logistics on the issue of misclassification of drayage drivers as independent contractors and not as regular employees. The stated goal of such classification is to help XPO, or any employer, deny truckers certain wage-and-hour  protections that are guaranteed to employees.  

The battle has intensified, as the state of California could get more involved under proposed legislation. The bill, SB1402, called the ‘Dignity in the Driver’s Seat’ bill was introduced last week by Senators Ricardo Lara, Steven Bradford, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.

The basic goal of the bill would hold trucking companies and the big-box retailers who use them jointly liable for by outstanding violation by those drayage companies.

FreightWaves spoke with Julie Gutman Dickinson, a labor attorney from Bush Gottlieb, the law firm responsible for filing the class action lawsuit against XPO Logistics, on what the bill entails and how it could help in curbing driver exploitation.

“The bottom line to the bill is to eradicate systemic wage theft and labor law violations in California’s port trucking industry that has led to 15 disruptive strikes at America’s largest port complex, located in Southern California," Dickinson said. "Courts and government agencies are uniformly finding these workers to be misclassified as independent contractors when in fact they are employees. Yet misclassification remains pervasive. It is not uncommon for a misclassified truck driver who works 40 to 60 hours a week to come back with a paycheck that is pennies. Or even as unimaginable as it sounds,  port truck drivers frequently end up owing money to the trucking companies due to unlawful deductions from their paychecks.” Trucking companies, particularly in response to a USA Today story on the issue, have regularly denied that drivers end up owing money at the end of a pay period.

Under the bill, drayage motor carriers who provide services to big-box retailers like Target or Amazon would need to furnish written notices to these retailers on unsatisfied judgments that they have against them, including unpaid wages, damages, expenses, penalties, and applicable interests. Apart from the obligation to provide the notice, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement would also be publishing the list of violators.

If a retailer continues to do business with a trucking company that has been deemed a bad actor with an unsatisfied court judgment, the retailer would also be jointly liable for the violation under the newly proposed bill. “The goal is to deter these trucking companies from misclassifying their workers and to stop them from violating the law with impunity,” Dickinson said. “Until the major retailers like Amazon, Sony, and Home Depot are held jointly liable for the unconscionable and systemic lawbreaking of their port trucking companies, we will not be able to solve the problem of having thousands of immigrant port truck drivers treated as indentured servants by their employers.”

In a USA Today story about the bill, Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, was quoted as saying in an email, “This is another example of a California politician who doesn’t understand the drayage (port trucking) industry.” This assault on the trucker’s right to choose their business model needs to stop.”

Port drayage motor carriers who provide services to big-box retailers like Target or Amazon, would need to furnish written notices to these retailers on unsatisfied judgments that they have against them, including unpaid wages, damages, expenses, penalties, and applicable interests. Apart from the obligation to provide the notice, the Division of Labor Standards enforcement would also be publishing the list of violators.

"The list will have the names, addresses and all the essential information of every port trucking company with  any unsatisfied final court judgement, assessment from the EDD, or any Order, Decision, or Award from the Labor Commissioner that finds a port drayage company  to have engaged in illegal conduct, including failure to pay wages, imposing unlawful business expenses on employees, failing to remit payroll taxes, failing to provide workers compensation and misclassifying drivers as independent contractors when they are employees,” Dickinson said.

However, Dickinson noted that if an administrative decision is appealed to the California Superior Court, the company in question will not be added to the list until the judgment is rendered by the  Superior Court.

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