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Thursday, February 20, 2014
Labor group claims port trucking companies treat drivers unfairly
Truckers line up at the entrance of a cargo terminal in the Port of Long
Beach. Drivers are increasingly contesting their classification as
independent contractors instead of company employees.
Representatives of a labor-friendly campaign to improve the wages and
working conditions of port truckers asserted Wednesday that the vast
majority of drivers are victims of widespread workplace violations by
Instead of being treated
as employees, thousands of drivers in the ports of Los Angeles, Long
Beach and other harbors across the nation have been illegally classified
as independent contractors, advocates said during a media conference
That designation has lowered wages, prevented drivers from unionizing
and denied them the protections of state and federal labor laws, they
“Trucking used to be one of
the backbones of the blue-collar middle class, but deunionization,
deregulation and misclassification of drivers have turned port trucks
into sweatshops on wheels,” said Jared Bernstein, a former chief
economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden now with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The California Trucking Assn., which represents about 2,000 trucking
companies in the state, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Bernstein is coauthor of a new study that addresses the impacts of
classifying port truckers as independent contractors and the growing
resistance by drivers to that designation.
Also participating in the research are the union-backed Change to Win
Strategic Organizing Center and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New
Economy. The report is part of a national effort on behalf of truckers
by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which includes Justice for
Port Drivers and the Teamsters union.
About 75,000 truckers serve the nation's ports, including an
estimated 15,000 in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest combined
harbor in the United States.
Their job is to haul the cargo containers of shippers to and from
port terminals. As a critical part of the goods movement industry, they
handle more than a trillion dollars of cargo annually.
Citing various court rulings and enforcement actions by state and
federal labor agencies, the report states that port drivers classified
as independent contractors are actually employees because of the
extensive control trucking firms have over them, directing when they
work, where they work, what their fees will be and who they can work
Many companies, they added, own the trucks, but drivers have to pay
for gas, repairs and maintenance out of their own earnings, dramatically
reducing their take home pay.
According to the report, the median earnings of an independent
contractor is about $29,000 a year, compared with $35,000 for a trucking
"I can't drive for other companies and I have no say in setting the
rates for the loads I haul," said Dennis Martinez, 28, an independent
contractor at the Port of Los Angeles who has a wife and four children. "I work really hard and have almost nothing to show for it."
Martinez said he works a six-day week, eight to 14 hours a days and
takes home about $200. He has lodged a wage theft complaint against his
company with the state Department of Labor Standards Enforcement.
His action is among some 400 complaints that have been filed by port
truckers with the state agency, which has issued 19 rulings confirming
that drivers have been misclassified as independent contractors. In
addition to formal complaints, a number of lawsuits are pending against
California trucking companies.