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CA labor office sides with port truck drivers

Trucks are driven near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the busiest port complex in the US,
Trucks are driven near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the busiest port complex in the US,
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Truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach who want to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors have scored another victory. A California labor office has ruled in favor of seven drivers for transport company Pacer International

In an administrative ruling that awards the truck drivers more than $2 million, a hearing officer with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) wrote:

The Defendant considered the Plaintiffs to be independent contractors; however, the amount of control exhibited by the Defendant over the Plaintiffs was to such a degree that the Defendant knew or should have known that the Plaintiffs were employees.

An attorney for the drivers, David Arambula, said the ruling gives momentum to port truckers in a years-long dispute over their employment status.

"The industry has to take notice that these folks are getting together," Arambula said in an interview with KPCC. "They’re organizing to exercise their rights."  

The truckers say as independent contractors, they’re paying too much to lease and maintain their trucks and they miss out on hourly wages and benefits.  Last November, truck drivers with Pac9 Transportation participated in a one-day strike to raise the issue of their "misclassification" as independent contractors.

Alex Cherin of the Harbor Trucking Association calls the ruling the latest chapter in the Teamsters union’s ongoing attempt to organize the truck drivers.  The movement has had a few rulings in its favor lately, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

"A vast majority of truckers in this harbor still want to remain independent contractors," Cherin told KPCC.  He added that the appeal of being independent gives the drivers flexibility and a chance to grow their own small business.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of job openings for company drivers, so if  a driver would rather be a company driver and be paid hourly, there are hundreds of openings today in the harbor to do that," Cherin told KPCC.  

In a statement, XPO Logistics, the company that recently acquired Pacer International, said it is appealing the DLSE ruling. 

Rich Dines, Vice President of the Port of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners said both ports are working improve efficiency so that trucks are waiting less time to pick up cargo.  Truck drivers can wait hours to pick up loads, and in the case of independent contractors, they're not being paid while they wait.  

Reducing what's known as "turn times" was an important topic that came up repeatedly at Wednesday's Pulse of the Ports Peak Season forecast event at the Long Beach Convention Center. Both Rich Dines and Alex Cherin were panelists, and both brought up the importance of improving turn times. 

"These extended turn times are making it difficult for truckers to make a living," Dines told KPCC at the event. "I really believe when we look at the efficiencies that we should realize at the port, and reaching a goal of a one-hour turn time, independent operators should be able to make a great living. If they can get five or six turns in a day, then this would present itself as a wonderful small business opportunity."