In a tremendous victory for Los Angeles/Long Beach port truck drivers who have gone on three “Unfair Labor Practice” strikes in the last eleven months, Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a consolidated complaint alleging a myriad of over 50 egregious labor law violations against one of the larger drayage companies, Green Fleet Systems (GFS) (the company also has operations at the Port of Savannah, Georgia). Additionally, because of the severe nature of the company’s violations intended to destroy the drivers’ union organizing campaign, the drivers’ counsel has filed a request for expedited injunctive relief in federal district court pursuant to Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act.
After an exhaustive investigation into ongoing allegations made against GFS by its employee and misclassified “independent contract” drivers, the NLRB Region’s finding include more than 50 violations, including:
- TERMINATING union activist employees MATEO MARES and AMILCAR CARDONA in retaliation for their union and other protected concerted activities, including filing wage claims at the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement;
- Discriminating against employees MATEO MARES and AMILCAR CARDONA by denying work and creating more onerous working conditions in retaliation for engaging in union and/or protected concerted activities and in order to discourage union and protected concerted activities, union membership, and/or support for the union;
- Threatening to terminate employees in retaliation for their union and other protected concerted activities;
- Threatening to cease operations (plant closure) in retaliation for employees’ union and other protected concerted activities;
- Threatening to sue employees in retaliation for their union and other protected concerted activities;
- Conditioning employees’ ability to continue to work for the Employer on withdrawal of their wage and hour claims filed with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE);
- Encouraging and/or permitting non-union supporter employees to harass, provoke, and/or assault union supporter employees;
- Interrogating employees about their union and other protected concerted activities;
- Threatening job applicants and other employees that the Employer would only hire and employ drivers who did not support the Union;
- Coercing employees to sign anti-union petitions;
- Threatening that union supporters deserve to die;
- Threatening employees that it is impermissible to sign anything with the Union or to have any contact with the Union;
- Engaging in unlawful surveillance of employees’ union activity; and
- Making statements to employees that would give the employees the impression that their union and/or protected concerted activities are under surveillance.
In one of the more incredible findings, the Region has determined that one of the company’s anti-union drivers is actually an “agent” of the company. She, as an agent of Green Fleet Systems, has made death threats to pro-union drivers and, in the presence of management, provided examples of ways to harass union supporters.
“Green Fleet is a recidivist employer that has been undaunted in its efforts to circumvent the National Labor Relations Act, including flagrantly violating a prior NLRB settlement agreement and callously waging a campaign of hallmark unfair labor practices designed to nip in the bud and destroy the Union’s organizing drive. We will take every step necessary to achieve justice for the drivers of Green Fleet,” said Julie Gutman Dickinson, attorney in this matter for International Brotherhood of Teamsters Port Division and drivers Mateo Mares and Amilcar Cardona.
Due to the egregious nature of the violations intended to destroy the drivers’ union organizing campaign, the NLRB Region is expected to soon receive authorization to obtain immediate injunctive relief in federal court to require Green Fleet to immediately reinstate the two drivers it unlawfully fired and to cease and desist from its egregious violations of labor law or face contempt of court.
“I was a driver for Green Fleet Systems hauling Skechers Shoes and other cargo from 2008 until I was fired in January this year,” said Mateo Mares, unlawfully fired Green Fleet driver. “When I began work at Green Fleet, the company misclassified me as an independent contractor. A few years ago, I heard about the Teamsters organizing campaign. I started talking to the Teamsters and to other drivers about working conditions, and I learned that I was in fact an employee and that, by misclassifying me as an independent contractor, Green Fleet was making unlawful deductions from my paycheck and denying me many benefits, including the right to organize. I began assisting the Teamsters organizing efforts, talking to other drivers about the benefits of unionization, and taking part in various campaign activities, such as wearing a union vest and participating in two unfair labor practice strikes. Green Fleet’s owner, Gary Mooney, and others interrogated me about my union activities and threatened to sue me. I organized a group of Green Fleet drivers to go to the California Department of Labor’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to file wage claims. After Green Fleet learned that we filed wage claims, owner Gary Mooney told my co-worker Amilcar Cardona and me that we couldn’t continue to work at Green Fleet unless we dropped our wage claims. When we refused to drop our wage claims, Mooney fired Amilcar and me.”
In May, fired GFS driver Mateo Mares and active driver Yasser Castillo took their fight directly to Skechers Shoes, Green Fleet’s largest customer. The drivers and a delegation of faith and community leaders delivered a national petition of more than 25,000 signatures that called on Skechers to hold their trucking contract, Green Fleet, accountable to labor laws. The drivers also attended Skechers Shoes’ annual shareholder meeting in Manhattan Beach, CA, and made the same demand directly to shareholders and company executives.
“It’s really inspiring for us to have this victory because we have fought really hard to defend our legal rights as workers,” said GFS driver Yasser Castillo. “Green Fleet is spending millions on union busters and actually recruits other drivers to harass us and provoke us to fight just to silence us, but we have stayed strong and united in fighting for our rights.”
An estimated 35 of GFS’ drivers are illegally misclassified as independent contractors. In early 2013, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) determined four former GFS drivers had been illegally misclassified as independent contractors and ordered GFS to pay $280,822 in back wages and penalties. Six GFS drivers, including illegally terminated Mares and Cardona, have since filed DLSE claims in 2013. The total liability for these claims is approximately $943,000. GFS could face an additional liability for the unlawful retaliation of firing the two drivers in a potential penalty of $20,000 under California state law. Drivers would also be entitled to back pay and reinstatement under federal law. The second state agency to recognize misclassification at GFS, the California Employment Development Department (EDD), concluded that Amilcar and Mateo are legally employees and are entitled to unemployment benefits.
“Green Fleet Systems has done everything they can to stop their drivers from having a voice on the job, but the drivers stayed strong knowing the law was on their side,” said Eric Tate, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 848, which represents port truck drivers working at the Toll Group. “This is a big moment for Green Fleet drivers who are a leading example to port truck drivers organizing across the country that when drivers stick together, they can defend their rights and win justice at the workplace.”
For additional information http://www.justiceforportdrivers.org