Truckers are protesting independent contractor status, costs to comply with clean air rules
Teamsters union Local 848 has initiated a strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach today to protest what they say is misclassification of their employment as independent contractors. Warehouse workers have also joined the strike, which includes about 100 truck drivers, reports NBC 4 Los Angeles.
The truckers are protesting "exploitation by greedy corporations using predatory subcontracting schemes, including misclassifying employees as independent workers in order to lower wages, deny them benefits such as health insurance, unemployment, and workers compensation,” according to a statement.
The strike involves drivers serving California Cartage and XPO Logistics among others and follows an announcement last week by the Mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach pushing emissions-free ports by 2035. These plans include clean fuels and electric vehicles, which can cost upwards of $500,000 per truck, according to some estimates.
There are 16,000 trucks currently serving the two ports.
Already fighting the battle for employee classification, the truckers and unions are weary of any plans to create cleaner ports, fearing the cost of these plans will be pushed upon the backs of the independent truckers, many of whom are struggling to survive, according to an in-depth USA Today investigative article.
“We support clean air, but there was no mention on how this Clean Air Action Plan would impact the drivers. We are concerned about who will end up paying for it," said Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 848, told NBC 4. “The last time they did this in 2008 with the Clean Truck Program, the corporations ended up passing on the cost to the workers by requiring them to lease a truck in order to get hired and illegally misclassifying them as 'independent contractors,' leaving very little for the workers to take home to their families. We don't want that to happen again.”
The misclassification issues remains the underlying concern for the truckers and unions. According to the Press Telegram, there have been 875 claims with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement division since 2011 claiming misclassification. In 376 of those cases, the drivers were found to be employees and awarded over $40 million back wages and penalties. There are still over 100 cases pending. Others have been settled out of court.
The companies, though, claim that the drivers like the independence of being independent contractors.
“We know firsthand that the majority of owner-operators prefer to work as independent contractors, and we will continue to advocate for their right to do so,” an XPO Logistics spokesperson is quoted as saying by the Press Telegram.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, though, dispute that, and have launched a website and initiative to raise awareness and stop the practice of hiring port truckers as independent truckers. The program, Justice for Port Drivers, claims that port drivers are forced to pay for “for their bosses’ business costs like fuel, truck lease payments, liability insurance, even parking.” This means that “some weeks drivers have to literally pay to work, creating modern-day sweatshops, just on wheels,” the Union says.
The USA Today article shed some light on the subject as well, suggesting that the independent contractor model is designed to take advantage of drivers who must wait for hours for containers to be readied and receive little to no pay for this time.
Further, the article claims, the cost of new technologies to reduce emissions was passed along to these truckers, as are lease and loan payments for the vehicles.
According to the article, drivers who can’t make the payments, or who have trucks that break down and can’t afford to fix them, have their vehicles taken away by the companies, who refuse to refund any payments already made.
USA Today alleges that more than 1,150 drivers have filed claims in civil court or with the California Department of Industrial Relations’ enforcement arm, known as the labor commission.
“Judges have sided with drivers in more than 97% of the cases heard, ruling time after time that port truckers in California can’t legally be classified as independent contractors,” the article states. “Instead, they are employees who, by law, must be paid minimum wage and can’t be charged for the equipment they use at work.”