Long Beach Register - Truck Drivers Gear Up For 48-Hour Strike As Ports In LA/LB Face Impact
Truck drivers gear up for 48-hour strike as ports in L.A., Long Beach face impact
BY PAT MAIO / STAFF WRITER
Published: April 25, 2014 Updated: 8:03 p.m.
As part of a mounting effort to organize thousands of truck drivers in the twin seaports of San Pedro Bay, the Teamsters union is planning a 48-hour strike by truck drivers beginning Monday.
About 100 truck drivers are to set to strike at four of the largest trucking firms at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, while others may walk off their jobs in sympathy.
Fred Potter, international vice president of the Teamsters who directs the port division, said the strike represents the first time that the labor group has escalated beyond the truck yards of the trucking firms, as drivers also will picket at terminals in the ports for the first time.
It’s unclear how much the truckers strike alone will affect operations at the two ports, which together make up the largest port complex in the country. However, it could have a devastating ripple effect if dock workers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union refuse to cross the picket lines.
“I’d be shocked if we didn’t get support of the ILWU or any other union affected by the picket,” Potter said.
Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the ILWU, which represents about 13,600 dock workers at both ports, wouldn’t comment Friday.
The firms affected by the strike include Green Fleet Systems of Rancho Dominguez, American Logistics International LLC of Carson, Pacific 9 Transportation of Carson and Total Transportation Services Inc. of Rancho Dominguez, said Teamsters spokeswoman Barb Maynard.
The drivers said that they are being treated as independent contractors instead of as employees. If treated as employees, they said that they would receive better pay and treatment in terms of the hours they work and terms on leases for the trucks they operate.
In November, truck drivers walked off their jobs as part of a brief strike protesting what they called unfair labor practices and wages. That strike involved Green Fleet, American Logistics and Pacific 9.
In the 48-hour strike set to begin Monday, Total Transportation truckers are joining the strike over working conditions and pay as part of a clear sign of the Port Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters stepping up its organizing efforts.
Alex H. Cherin, a spokesman for port trucking companies, wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday.
In March, the Teamsters won a key legal ruling in California that the union said forces trucking companies to end their business practice of having independent drivers pay for fuel, insurance, truck repairs and lease payments for trucks owned by a trucking firm.
“At the end of the month, these drivers – who were treated like employees – would get a bill,” said Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 848, in an interview last month.
“If you lease the vehicle, shouldn’t you be able to pull freight for someone else? They said the truck couldn’t be used for anyone else.”
The added expenses were deducted out of driver paychecks, essentially making the independent contractors “sweatshops on wheels,” Tate said.
The ports are monitoring the situation.
“Many trucking companies call on the terminals. They just need to make sure everyone has access to the terminals,” said Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. “We can accommodate the pickets, but just so long as they don’t do injury to themselves or others.”
The Port of Los Angeles also is preparing for the strike.
“We’ll be watching it closely,” said Arley Baker, a spokesman for the Port of LA.
In a statement, the Port of L.A., added, “The port respects the right for citizens to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. Los Angeles Port Police will be on hand to ensure public safety and ensure the movement of cargo throughout the port.”
Baker also observed that the Teamsters have stepped up their labor actions with certain companies doing drayage in the port over the past several months.
The four companies involved in the 48-hour strike are classified as drayage companies. These trucking firms transport goods over a short distance, such as between berths in the ports, or intermodal terminals.
In California, there are an estimated 25,000 port truck drivers with 16,400 misclassified as independent contractors, according to figures provided by the Teamsters. Wong said there are about 11,000 registered drivers in the ports complex.
Other union organizing efforts by the Teamsters are underway in the ports of Seattle, Oakland, New York, New Jersey and Savannah, Ga. Hundreds of truck drivers in Savannah are planning a rally on Monday over similar issues, according to a flier announcing the event.
Bill Aboudi, owner of AB Trucking in the Port of Oakland, said Teamsters are attempting to unionize truck drivers in the seaports of San Pedro Bay because they believe it would give them an edge in union campaigns elsewhere.
“They tried to do it nationally, but it didn’t work,” said Aboudi, who has fought the Teamsters over the past decade. “Their new strategy is to focus on L.A. and Long Beach. But our economy would collapse if they were successful.”
Port trucking industry at a glance
• An estimated 75,200 short-haul truck drivers move nearly $4 billion in cargo on and off the docks of U.S. seaports every day.
• About 49,331 are misclassified as independent contractors, with roughly 16,400 misclassified port drivers in California alone.
• Port truck drivers misclassified as independent contractors work on average 59 hours a week and earn $28,798 (before taxes), which is 22 percent less than the $35,000 average for employee drivers.
• The estimated annual wage and hour violations by California port trucking companies amount to $850 million.
• In recent years, the Teamsters mounted several legal and legislative efforts to get truck drivers classified as employees, including complaints filed with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, California Employment Development Department, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Georgia.