by David Bensman
November 22, 2014
All Photos Courtesy of the Author
On Thursday, November 13, port truckers struck at the nation’s largest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, demanding an end to misclassification and wage theft. It was the fourth strike in a campaign initiated by the Teamsters and Change to Win seven years ago. It’s been a long campaign and the cost has been enormous.
The trucking companies categorize the truckers as independent contractors, a ploy that relieves the companies of the responsibility of employers. They don’t have to pay payroll taxes, don’t have to contribute to unemployment or workers’ compensation funds, don’t have to respect labor and employment laws: no right to unionize, no health and safety protections, no freedom from discrimination. After several strategies stalled, the Teamsters and Change to Win embarked on a campaign to prove that the drivers were employees, not contractors, and therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Wagner Act. (The first step was convincing the drivers themselves that they were misclassified.) Having spent seven years researching the port trucking industry, I wanted to find out if the unions’ organizing campaign had finally broken through, so I flew out to Long Beach last weekend. This is what I saw.
Friday, November 14, 2014
Things are breaking on the port truckers’ strike. Nick Weiner, Change to Win’s lead organizer on the campaign, met with two trucking company heads and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about respecting the workers’ right to unionize. Court rulings and NLRB actions are taking a toll on the companies. At the end of two days of picketing, the parties issued a joint statement that, amazingly, recognized the independent contractors’ right to join a union if they so chose—a major breakthrough. The union agreed to suspend the picket lines on Saturday, with the understanding that if the companies did not sign agreement next week, the strikes would resume. Two other trucking companies are reported to be close to a card check agreement.
In the afternoon, members of Teamsters Local 848 and International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) staff joined drivers from two struck companies on the picket lines. Truck after truck was turned away at terminals by terminal operators who did not want to bring down the wrath of the IBT. At the Pac9 picket line, striking drivers actively blocked traffic while discussing strategy in loud Spanish. I met with one driver, Alex Paz, who was discharged by another trucking company, TTSI, for filing charges in court complaining of wage theft and misclassification. Alex was one of thirty-five drivers illegally discharged for speaking up. The unfair labor practice complaint against the company is before NLRB. While awaiting restitution, Alex is working as an employee of Toll, a member of the Teamsters, where—for a change—he enjoys overtime pay and health care coverage.