NLRB Ruling Could Affect Entire Industry
A new wave of protests is working its way through America’s ports, with workers standing up to management’s illegal practice of misclassifying employees as “independent contractors.”
Recent government determinations and rulings of worker misclassification have given port drivers and the labor unions working on their behalf, most notably the Teamsters Union, meaningful momentum in their fight to end the illegal misclassification scam that has turned a once-unionized industry into “sweatshops on wheels.”
Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board recently found that Pacific 9 Transportation’s (Pac 9) drivers are misclassified employees in connection to Unfair Labor Practice charges filed against the company. After it conducted its investigation, Region 21 found that drivers have been subjected to unlawful retaliation for exercising their legal rights to organize a union. By agreeing to settle these charges with the NLRB and post a notice to drivers, Pac 9 is acknowledging that its drivers are employees and have the right to organize.
This settlement is part of a series of state and federal actions that have strengthened the hand of truck drivers who want union representation at the Port of LA/Long Beach.
The settlement follows a multiple findings by the California Labor Commissioner that port drivers are misclassified employees and entitled to state wage and hour protections. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The agreement comes after repeated victories at the state Labor Commissioner’s office, where 30 drivers have won decisions against 11 port trucking firms, awarding them $3.6 million in wages and penalties.”
Pac9 Settlement Empowers Workers
“I am ecstatic,” said Eric Tate, Local 848 Secretary-Treasurer. “They dug into this situation and found there is a serious problem here. We are trying to protect jobs and workers who are being mistreated.”
The ruling from the NLRB regional office could affect the entire port trucking industry, which currently leaves many of America’s port drivers working full time yet earning less than minimum wage.
According to HDT Trucking Info, “The settlement does not include Pacific 9 Transportation admitting to any wrongdoing. Pacific 9 drivers have filed more than 50 wage and hour claims with the California Labor Commissioner and went on strike in November 2013 in protest of unfair labor practices. They were joined in a 36-hour protest by drivers of Green Fleet Systems and American Logistics International, also located in Carson, just north of Long Beach.”
Pac 9’s business practices have also attracted the attention of the Tax Division of the California Employment Development Department for misclassifying drivers and failing to pay unemployment and workers compensation taxes, according to the group.
Misclassified No More
“Now that the government has validated what I’ve always known – that I am misclassified as an independent contractor – I have the rights of an employee and can fight for better conditions at work and a better future for my family through a Teamster contract,” said Pac 9 driver Amador Rojas in an interview with Salon.com.
“We have been fighting for these workers’ rights on the job and now the National Labor Relations Board is making decisions in their favor,” said Fred Potter, Director of the Teamsters Port Division and International Vice President. “With the combined strength of port truck drivers in Savannah, Georgia, and New Jersey, the workers' voices are finally being heard.”
Pac 9 owns the trucks driven by the drivers, but forces them to pay for fuel, tires and maintenance. Because the company misclassified them as independent contractors, they didn't receive benefits or enjoy legal protections as employees.
A recent story in American Prospect states: “Before 1980, trucking companies had to get a license from the Interstate Commerce Commission to haul freight to and from the ports. The ICC limited the number of trucks to assure stability; the resulting rate structure was sufficient for companies to make stable profits while providing workers with decent incomes with benefits. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters organized and bargained for most of the port truckers, who received wage and benefit packages comparable to those of autoworkers, steelworkers, and over-the-road truckers…Thirty-four years after deregulation, ten surveys of drivers at seven ports reveal that 82 percent of workers in the industry which hauls containers from ports to warehouses are misclassified as independent contractors.”
According to a report put out by the Teamsters Union and the National Employment Law Project, called “The Big Rig,” “Industry analysts identify independent contracting as the industry’s dominant business model which sets standards for all port drivers. Few other industries rely on anywhere near this proportion of independent contractors. Through independent contracting agreements, leases, and other employment arrangements, trucking companies make drivers responsible for all truck-related expenses including purchase, fuel, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and repair costs. Port truck drivers work long hours for poverty-level wages. Among surveyed drivers, the average work week was 59 hours.”
The Fight for Dignity, Respect
In late April, striking truck drivers serving the nation’s largest port complex returned to work after an historic unfair labor practice strike lasting 48 hours. It marked a dramatic escalation of drivers’ fight for dignity, respect, and a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.
“With the support of my family, my faith, and the Teamsters, I spent nearly 48 hours on the picket line,” said Dennis Martinez, a port truck driver misclassified as an “independent contractor” by Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI). “We spoke with our feet, with our picket signs, and with our voices, and we know that we have finally been heard. Our resolve has never been stronger: We will not tolerate any form of retaliation, harassment, or intimidation in our fight to have our rights as employees – and our right to form a union – recognized.”
“The reason I went on strike is because two of my co-workers were fired when they decided to take a stand, to fight for their rights. It is illegal to retaliate against workers like this, and we are united in our demand for justice,” said striking Green Fleet Systems driver Byron Contreras.
“Years of deregulation led to this independent contractor model, which is inherently unfair to workers,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “What happens with the independent contractor model is this: The owner gets a reasonable profit at a low cost, and the driver gets next to nothing after paying costs the company should pick up. The misclassified workers earn lower incomes than they should and they experience a lot of economic uncertainty. In everything but name, these workers are regular employees. They should get paid as such.”
The International Labor Organization also said these independent contractors are more vulnerable to on-the-job injuries; they get far less training than regular workers and are denied opportunities for advancement.
The National Employment Law Project calls this model “sharecropping on wheels,” and they estimate that 49,000 of the nation’s 75,000 port truck drivers have been misclassified.