Illegally Fired Port Truck Driver Awarded $9,000 In Unemployment Benefits
Barb Maynard/Justice for LA/LB Port DriversEmail: [email protected] Phone: (323) 351-9321
Los Angeles, CA – In September 2014, more than 35 misclassified “independent contractor” port truck drivers who participated in recent unfair labor practice strikes and filed “wage and hour” claims with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) were fired by their employer, Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI), when they refused to acquiesce to the company’s illegal demand to withdraw their claims for wage theft as misclassified “independent contractors.”
This week, the first of the fired drivers, Yesenia Rivas, was awarded $9,000 in unemployment benefits by the California Employment Development Department (EDD) – benefits that are only available to “employees,” not “independent contractors.”
“Once again, the authorities have affirmed that port truck drivers misclassified as “independent contractors” are in fact employees. This recent decision has dealt another blow to the illegal misclassification scam used in the port trucking industry to lower business costs, avoid paying taxes, and prevent unionization,” declared Fred Potter, Director, Teamsters Port Division, and International Vice President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
"I fought back against wage theft and I openly supported the union and for that I was fired. Now we are breaking the barriers to justice. I am an employee, not an independent contractor. I have rights!" said fired TTSI driver Yesenia Rivas after she received her award letter from the EDD this week.
In July, port truck drivers at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on an indefinite strike to protest severe and continuing labor law violations – the drivers’ fourth such strike in a year. After five days of picketing that dramatically impacted port operations and garnered international media attention, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti brokered a “cooling off” period, which critically included an agreement by TTSI (and other companies) to accept all drivers back to work without retaliation and specifically without being forced to sign away all future rights in new truck leases (see next paragraph). Despite commitments to Mayor Garcetti, the company has dramatically escalated retaliatory activity, clearly violating the terms of the cooling off period.
Two weeks prior to the July strike – on June 22, 2014 – TTSI announced to its drivers that effective Aug.1, 2014, it would be terminating the leasing arrangement that had been in effect for more than five years. Instead, drivers would be required to provide their own trucks, either by switching over to a third-party leasing intermediary or by financing or purchasing a truck through some other means. In addition, drivers would also have to sign a new “independent contractor agreement” and withdraw their claims for wage theft with the DLSE or be terminated. The terminations were set to be effective Aug. 1, 2014, but were delayed to Sept. 1, 2014. On Aug. 29, the last working day before the deadline, drivers attempted to meet with the company to sign the new leases so they could continue working but were told to return on Sept. 2. When they met with the company on Sept. 2, they were initially told that they would not be required to withdraw their DLSE claims, and in fact, some drivers signed the new lease agreements and were dispatched to the ports for work. However, while other drivers were awaiting their turn to sign, the company abruptly changed course and demanded withdrawal of all DLSE claims.
On Aug. 26, 2014, the Long Beach office of the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) issued an Order of Decision or Award (ODA) for claims heard on June 18, 2014, for fourteen (14) truck drivers who work for Total Transportation Systems, Inc. (TTSI). These determinations found the following:
- The company failed to prove that the drivers are legitimately classified as independent contractors. As such, the DLSE determined that all fourteen drivers were employees and that the massive deductions from drivers' paychecks of money for fuel, insurance, parking, and other TTSI business expenses were illegal and are owed to the drivers.
- These illegal deductions were added to the sum of damages for unpaid waiting time and rest and meal breaks not provided to drivers over three years. These awards sum to an amount of $954,953.62 (average of $68,211 per driver).
- These are not the first or the last such claims. The company was found to be misclassifying two other drivers in 2013, finding them to be employees and awarding them almost $200,000. There are more than 30 additional claims pending hearings at DLSE. The total amount of wage theft claims against TTSI by drivers is approximately $4.8 million owed in back pay and damages.
For more information on the port truck drivers’ campaign, visit www.JusticeForPortDrivers.org. Follow us on Twitter @PORTDRIVERUNION. Like us at Facebook.com\Justice4PortDriversLA.