Business & Economy

Frustrated port truckers seek to gain leverage through wage claims

Trucks wait to be loaded at the Port of Los Angeles Wednesday,  Dec. 5, 2012 in Los Angeles.
Trucks wait to be loaded at the Port of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 in Los Angeles.
Nick Ut/AP

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Fourteen truck drivers who move cargo in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have filed wage claims against the companies they drive for. 

Some short-haul or “drayage” truckers in the ports says they’re misclassified as independent contractors.  They would rather be employees with benefits and the right to join a union.  Their campaign, backed by the Teamsters Union, has featured repeated walk-outs and picketing against drayage companies over the years.  But it has also featured hundreds of claims for lost wages filed with California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

The Teamsters estimate more than 700 wage and hours claims have been filed with DLSE, and the office has issued orders in favor of more than a hundred claimants.

“The drivers and the Teamsters have found a lever that they can use,” says Dan Smith, a specialist in drayage firms with the Tioga Group.  He says the DLSE has been very sympathetic to the drivers’ claims.

“There is a little concern within the industry that these [past] claims have been rubberstamped,” Smith says.

The most recent 14 claims target 4 companies for an estimated $3.5 million in lost wages: RPM Transportation; K&R, Gold Point Transportation, and XPO Logistics.

A spokesman for RPM Transportation declined comment until learning more details of the claims. Gold Point Transportation also declined comment. Spokespeople for K&R and XPO Logistics could not be reached for comment.

The drivers say because they’re classified as independent contractors and not employees, they’re paid by the load rather than the hour and forced to cover a lot of expenses out of their paychecks.

Dan Smith of the Tioga Group says the multiple wage claims are certainly getting drayage companies’ attention.

“What it may be doing is accelerating a trend.  There is certainly a recognition within the industry that there is a role for employee drivers,” Smith says.

The Harbor Trucking Association (HTA), which represents drayage companies at the Ports of L. A. and Long Beach, would not comment on specific wage claims.  But it issued a statement saying it supports the companies right to choose their business model as well as the drivers right to choose which companies to drive for.

“With a shortage of drivers nationwide, the HTA feels that the market will support the type of labor model that will be preferred due to where drivers choose to seek work,” the statement said.