Driving Change at LA’s Ports

May 17, 2016 -- Jamie Way

More than 12,000 drivers serve ports in the Los Angeles area. They do the vital work of moving imported goods from the most important port complex in the nation to rail yards and warehouses. Yet, because these workers have been misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, they lack basic protections such as a minimum wage, workers’ compensation, disability and unemployment insurance. Despite the fact that drivers cannot work for other companies, negotiate rates or set their schedules as true independent contractors can, they are charged for the maintenance of the company vehicles they lease, for the fuel and other business expenses.

Through the Project for Clean and Safe Ports, affiliate LAANE is directly taking on the issue of misclassification of truck drivers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The group has engaged with strategic wage claims and litigation supporting drivers’ right to organize to improve conditions. Drivers are winning their owed earnings and forcing companies to reconsider their strategy of driver misclassification.

LAANE and the Teamsters Port Division have partnered to support drivers filing wage claims to the California Labor Commissioner as well as private litigation against major port trucking companies alleging misclassification and massive wage theft. Hearing officers and judges have found the drivers to be employees, who are owed tens of thousands of dollars in illegal deductions, penalties and unpaid wages.

At the same time, drivers are standing up and demanding that their rights be respected. Drivers at more than a dozen companies have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that they are in fact employees and have been targeted by the company for organizing. Again, in each case, drivers have been found to indeed be misclassified. Hundreds of drivers have exercised their right to act collectively, striking and taking other brave actions to improve their workplaces. Most recently, the NLRB issued a complaint against a major port trucking company alleging that the very act of misclassification is illegal. This is a step that could help redefine the issue of employee status at the port and beyond.

Through these legal and administrative actions, strong organizing, deep support from the community and, most importantly, the bravery of port truck drivers, several major companies at the port have reclassified their drivers. These drivers have become members of Teamsters Local 848. Five hundred of these mostly immigrant drivers have had their lives changed -- increasing their income, while reducing their average workday from 14 or 16 hours to eight. They are not only receiving their first payments into social security, but also vesting into the Teamsters’ pension. For the first time, they receive the basic protections of workers’ compensation and disability if they are injured at work in one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation.