Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the nation’s busiest ports, have been the center of a legal dispute between port trucking companies and their drivers, a dispute that has widened to include the entire nation’s port trucking industry.
Nationally, there are over 2000 port trucking companies, known as drayage, running 100 trucks or less, transporting cargo between docks and warehouses. As many as 25,000 drivers in Southern California transport goods to and from port terminals every day.
Port Trucking Companies Found in Violation by Labor Commission
Between 2011 and 2017, 875 complaints were filed against port trucking companies with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), alleging that drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and denied the wages and benefits given to full time employees. Of those complaints, by 2017 the Labor Commissioner’s office issued determinations in at least 376 cases, finding that drivers were in fact employees and therefore owed over $40 million in stolen wages and penalties.
In 2016, the California Labor Commissioner’s office offered port trucking companies “amnesty” from any penalties they incurred for misclassifying drivers if they voluntarily made their drivers full time employees and provided back pay, but no companies applied for the program.
Port Drivers Take Their Case to Court
In addition to complaints brought before the DLSE, drivers have also been exercising their rights as employees through the court system with class action suits for misclassification and wage theft, and have also filed dozens of individual and “mass action” suits involving multiple plaintiffs.
All of the cases brought before the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, cases filed with class action, “mass action,” and those filed with individual lawsuits sought to address violations of the California Labor Code, including unlawful deductions and unreimbursed expenses, and failure to provide meal and rest breaks.
State and Federal Agencies Weigh in on Port Trucking Company Violations
In addition to the courts and the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, other state and federal agencies have found port drivers to be employees. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that drivers in at least six major port trucking companies were employees not independent contractors, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) conducted an investigation of a port trucking company for misclassification, which resulted in a 2014 judgement finding the company’s drivers were employees, and ordered it to reclassify them.
Teamsters Union Supports Justice for Port Drivers
Justice for Port Drivers, a campaign supported by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has organized drayage drivers throughout the country, most heavily in Southern California. The union has for years helped drivers file labor complaints and lawsuits. Justice for Port Drivers organizers say that trucking companies force the costs of fuel, insurance, maintenance, and lease payments onto their drivers. Drivers also say they are not compensated for the many hours they are required to work.
Port Trucking Companies Force Debt on Independent Contractors
A recent investigation found that port trucking companies in southern California forced drivers to give up their old trucks, many of which they owned outright, as down payment on a lease-to-own contract on a new truck, causing them to be up to $100,000 in debt to their own employer. In some cases, drivers were handed a lease-to-own contract by their employer and given a choice: sign immediately or be fired. The companies then used that debt as leverage to force drivers to work against their will, up to 20 hours a day, by threatening to take their trucks and keep the money they paid toward buying them.
Because drivers were independent contractors, employers could charge not just for truck leases but for other expenses, including hundreds of dollars a month for insurance and diesel fuel. In more than 97% of the cases heard, judges have sided with drivers, ruling that port truckers in California can’t legally be classified as independent contractors. Instead, they are employees who, by law, must be paid minimum wage and cannot be charged for the equipment they use at work.
For more information about trucking laws and liability, visit our website at: www.portlandtruckaccidentlawyer.com.
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