Short-haul truckers who move cargo in and out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach walked off the job Monday.
The truck drivers argue that their classification as "independent contractors" is wrong and unfair. They want to be classified as permanent employees, with the intention of joining the Teamsters Union.
"They do not set their own rates, and they can't refuse loads," says Barbara Maynard, spokeswoman for the organizing effort. "They also cannot go and work for other companies. They cannot take the truck that they are leasing, drive it over to another company and work for them if that company is willing to pay a higher rate."
Maynard didn't have exact numbers but estimated "several hundred" truckers had walked off the job at four of the major drayage and logistics companies that operate at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach: Pacer Cartage; Harbor Rail Transport (HRT); Pac 9 Transportation, Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT). The truckers were going to picket against the companies at the ports.
Truck drivers at Pacer, HRT and Pac 9 have gone on strike a few times over the last few years, also fighting to be classified as permanent employees. Some companies have entered into confidential discussions with Teamsters organizers, but the drivers remain dissatisfied. They say their companies have also harassed them for filing complaints and organizing to join a union.
Jon Slangerup, CEO of the Port of Long Beach, said the truck drivers' action would not effect operations at the port.
“The Port of Long Beach does not employ or contract with the drivers involved in this informational action, but we respect the rights of the drivers to picket," Slangerup said. "Our Harbor Patrol officers and Long Beach Police are monitoring the situation and they are keeping the roadways accessible to all who want to do business at the Port.
“Dockworkers have reported to work and truckers have been able to enter and exit the affected terminals without delay. We do not expect that there will be any adverse impact to Port terminals or our ability to continue the outstanding progress that everyone has made in recent weeks to clear the congestion backlog and return to normal operations."
What remains to be seen is how disruptive the new action could be. The Ports of L.A. and Long Beach are digging out of a cargo backlog due in part to other labor slowdowns involving dockworkers earlier this year. Maynard said picketing started at the companies' facilities but will spread to port terminals and some rail yards, as well as one company's operations in San Diego.
"I believe now is a horrible time to introduce any slowdowns to the supply chain," said Weston LaBar, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association, which represents drayage firms at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach. "Maybe this is just my thinking, but if they want to be a part of the real solution perhaps they should suspend these efforts until we get closer to a normal flow of cargo in the San Pedro Bay. We don't want to put any more jobs in our region in jeopardy."
The trucking companies have largely stood their ground, but the union organizers and disgruntled truckers saw one breakthrough just hours before picketing began. Carson-based Green Fleet Systems and the Teamsters issued a joint statement announcing a “comprehensive labor peace agreement” designed to give the company’s drivers a chance "to select an exclusive representative for purpose of collective bargaining.”
The union had targeted Green Fleet repeatedly with labor actions in the past. Last June, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the company for labor violations.
In January, another Carson-based logistics company, Shippers Transport Express - reclassified its drivers as employees, and the drivers quickly elected to be represented by the Teamsters Union.
“Green Fleet is a good sign,” said Daniel Linares, a driver for Pac 9 Transportation, as he picketed outside his company’s headquarters. “Hopefully, my company will go over the same road. Otherwise, we’re going to stay on strike until the situation gets better.”
Linares said drivers like him can work up to 60 hours per week, and make less than minimum wage because they are paid by the truckload, rather than by the hour.
Weston LaBar of the Harbor Trucking Association said the picketing truckers don’t represent the “overwhelming majority” of those who own and operate trucks at the Ports. "Not everyone wants to work a 9-5 job making a set hourly wage,” LaBar said in an email to KPCC. " The majority of the owner-operators in the port prefer to remain independent contractors because they know they have a greater opportunity to make a decent income and they have greater flexibility over the hours in which they work."