Three port-related workers from across the country came to Capitol Hill yesterday to share their stories on how companies are taking advantage of their labor by misclassifying them as contract workers and how changes need to be made to federal law to stop the practice.
They told congressional staffers and lawmakers in attendance about the long hours they are expected to work for low pay and a lack of protections on the job if they are injured or sick. They also said they risk losing their rigs even after years of making payments on them if they can’t keep up with the high lease-to-own payments or necessary repairs to their vehicles.
“There are a lot of myths surrounding truck drivers,” said Javier Ramirez, an XPO Logistics driver from San Diego. “Many people think it is a lucrative business with a high reward. But that isn’t the case and is far from the truth.”
Despite working long hours, many of these workers are being driven to bankruptcy. “Can you imagine working six years, making all the payments on the truck, and not owning the vehicle?” said Fred Potter, the Teamster’s Port Division Director. “There are a lot of sad stories at the port.”
Potter noted that the misclassification practices engaged in by companies like XPO give them an unfair advantage in the marketplace that penalizes port trucking firms properly employing their workers. That’s why the Teamsters have worked to hold large retailers like Target and Walmart responsible for the practices of their trucking subcontractors engaging in misclassification.
The Teamsters and workers are urging Congress to craft legislation like a measure enacted in California that would improving working conditions both in the trucking industry and throughout the supply chain. California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, who formerly served as a state senator, introduced the legislation.
Lara told attendees his bill went after “the top of the food chain” by targeting retailers and shippers who hire port trucking companies to transport goods to inland warehouses. It holds them jointly responsible for employment violations by such firms. The state publishes a list of trucking companies violating the state’s employment law, thus giving retailers and shippers the ability to avoid doing business with them.
“It’s no longer OK in the modern world for a company to say they didn’t know,” Lara said.
House members said they realize this is a problem that needs to be addressed on the federal level. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) said port truckers should not be forced to work long hours for low pay. “It is unthinkable and disgraceful that companies continue to get away with it,” she said.
And Rep. Nannette Barragan (D-Calif.), who noted her brother-in-law works as a port truck driver at the Port of Los Angeles, called the situation unacceptable. “Whatever we can do at the federal level, count me in,” she said.