“I work day and night; sometimes 90 hours a week,” said Daniel Ortiz, a short-haul truck driver at the Port of Newark. “I don’t have time to rest; I don’t have time to be with my family.”
Oritz is one of 110,000 short-haul drivers in the US who transfer goods between the nation’s ports and nearby warehouses. Life is hard for these drivers, especially those like Ortiz who are misclassified as independent contractors by companies who pay their salaries.
As independent contractors, drivers are responsible for maintaining their own trucks, purchasing insurance, and making lease or loan payments on the trucks they operate. What’s left over after all these expenses is what they take home to their families, on average about $28,000 a year.
Their jobs also have no benefits. “I don’t have retirement, health insurance, Social Security, or Workers Compensation,” Ortiz said. “If anything happens to me, me and my family are the ones who suffer.”
A report entitled The Big Rig: Poverty, Pollution, and the Misclassification of Truck Drivers at America’s Ports released Wednesday by the National Employment Law Project found that 82 percent of short-haul drivers at the nations’ ports are classified as independent contractors.
The report also says that the drivers sign contracts that prohibit them from working for others, have no say in the work assigned them by the company, can be fired or fined by their company, are evaluated by their company, and have regular pay days–in short, they are employees in everything but name.
The contractor business model is the norm for the short-haul industry and has been since the trucking industry was deregulated 30 years ago.
After deregulation, thousands of small trucking companies sprang up and competed ferociously for business from the corporate giants who use their services.
“Major cargo shipping companies like Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot demand rock bottom prices,” says the report. And “misclassification can save businesses as much as 30 percent of their payroll costs.”
Companies not only shift the expense of upkeep to their drivers by misclassifying them as contractors, they also avoid paying taxes on Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation.
The US Treasury estimates that misclassification costs the country about $15 billion in unpaid Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes.
The misclassification of workers also contributes to the abnormally high air pollution common to most ports and nearby communities. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 87 million people live in port regions with poor air quality.
“Coast to coast, the industry forces the cost of truck operation and maintenance onto the workers behind the wheel, and as a result, old, diesel-spewing rigs fill U.S. transportation corridors because that’s all these low-wage earners can afford,” said Carl Pope, the Chairman of the Sierra Club.
Classifying the drivers as independent contractors also makes it more difficult for drivers to form unions.
“Misclassification of employees as independent contractors continues to be one of the most potent tactics used to erode workers’ rights,” said Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.