Teamsters Crank Up Labor Strife at LA, Long Beach Ports

Long Beach Port (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Jae C. Hong : Associated Press

Despite a continuing backlog of freight following the nine months of bitter labor strife between the Pacific Maritime Association and members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union(ILWU), who settled their disputes two months ago, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has started a labor action against four companies at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

About 200 of the 16,000 drivers that haul freight for the 1,000 companies that regularly service the ports walked off the job on Monday afternoon. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters set up picket lines Tuesday around the entrances to the trucking yards for Pacific 9 Transportation, Intermodal Bridge Transport, Pacer Cartage and Harbor Rail Transport, union spokesman Barb Maynard told the Los Angeles Times.

So far, “The access to the (port) is still open,” Port of Long Beach spokesman Art Wong said yesterday. “As far as we’ve heard, they’re peaceful. There are several dozen of them.” But he acknowledged that if any trucks from the targeted firms enter any of the ports’ facilities, the strike would spread across the ports, as Teamsters’ and ILWU workers would refuse to cross the picket lines.

The main issues in the strike are the Teamsters’ contention that the drivers who are working as “independent contractors” for the trucking companies should be classified as full-fledged employees. The union alleges that independent status is “wage theft,” because it prevents the truckers from joining the Teamsters’ union and receiving the full amounts of Teamsters’ wages and benefits.

Superior Court Judge Jay M. Bloom in January ruled that employees at Pacer Cartage should have been classified as employees. XPO Logistics, which owns Pacer Cartage and Harbor Rail Transport, was ordered to pay $2 million in damages because they should not have classified truckers as independent contractors. The judge ordered Pacer to pay the seven drivers named in the suit damages for loss of wages and benefits that ranged between $85,632 to $387,936.

Most trucking firms that do business around California ports have been hiring drivers as independent contractors since the state legislature passed new environmental regulation in 2009 that all “drayage” trucks meet more stringent emissions requirements.

The newer, cleaner trucks cost about $100,000. The price was out of reach for most independent owner-operators. So companies like Pacer set up a supposedly independent company that leased the trucks through Bank of America, then subleased the same trucks to truckers as independent contractors. The drivers never saw the terms of the leases and were required to purchase insurance through the company.

The court found the “complex” leasing agreement was only available in English, despite the fact that the seven plaintiff drivers “spoke virtually no English.” Although the drivers legally owned the trucks, they could only park the in designated areas, could not move freight for any other company, and were punished if they received moving violations.

The judge also found that Pacer drivers had to file a job application, wear identification cards with the Pacer logo, could not bill their customers or set prices or rates, had to complete log books and other forms of bookkeeping, and followed Pacer’s rulebook.

The drivers’ attorney, Alvin Gomez, said the time the case set a precedent for the large number of “wage theft” cases regarding truck drivers that are pending, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “Now, every truck company is put on notice that if they have a similar scheme in place, (they) are in willing violation of California law.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka in January began confidential negotiations between Teamsters and the eight port trucking companies over what was billed as a “truce on strikes.”

Teamsters claimed on Tuesday they had reached a “labor peace” agreement with Green Fleet Systems, which had been targeted in previous job actions.



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