Toll Group short-haul truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Thursday celebrated their union victory during the 4 P.M. shift change. On Wednesday, the drivers voted 46 to 15 to join the Teamsters. The Journal of Commerce described Wednesday’s pro-union vote as “historic.”
“These first-rate truck drivers decided to form their union after being treated as second-class citizens under third-world working conditions,” said Teamsters Vice President Fred Potter. “Now these courageous employees have inspired other port drivers to fight for good, middle-class jobs at America’s port’s nationwide, and the Teamsters and our coalition are going to be here to help them do it.”
Since the 1980s when the US government deregulated the trucking industry, pay and working conditions among port short-haul drivers have declined. Average pay for Toll’s Los Angeles area drivers is only $12.72 per hour.
Deregulation also made it harder for drivers to improve their conditions by organizing unions because it allowed trucking companies to classify drivers as independent contractors, who have no protection under federal or state labor laws.
Toll workers, however, are an exception. Several years ago when the Port of Los Angeles required short-haul trucking companies to buy new rigs in order to reduce pollution and reclassify drivers as employees, Toll did so. Other companies resisted and won a court ruling that overturned the port’s requirement.
Toll workers began their campaign for union representation last year because of mistreatment by the company, an $8 billion multinational company based in Melbourne, Australia. Things came to a head after the company told drivers that they couldn’t use restrooms in the company’s port headquarters; instead, they were required to use portable facilities in the parking lot.
Drivers complained that these facilities were unsanitary and in October petitioned the company to change its mind. The company refused, and fired some of the workers who had been active in the petition campaign. After these firings, the union campaign picked up momentum.
The workers gathered signatures on a union representation petition and on February 1 filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Meanwhile, the company was conducting an aggressive anti-union campaign.
The Teamsters filed unfair labor practices against Toll with the NLRB, which issued a formal complaint against the company citing 21 specific instances of alleged illegal activity.
According to the NLRB complaint, Toll management spied on union supporters, promised workers extra benefits and other consideration for opposing the union, prohibited workers from talking about the union, threatened workers with dismissal for supporting the union, and interrogated workers about their union support.
The complaint also said that the company prohibited drivers from talking among themselves at a yard where drivers waited to take on new loads.
One of the victims of the anti-union campaign was Xiomara Perez, a union activist who was fired after she took short a rest break while transporting cargo from the port to a nearby warehouse. Perez still has not been rehired, and the union has initiated a petition campaign to get her job back.
The petition asks Under Armour, a company that contracts with Toll to haul its merchandise and that has a strong ethics and business conduct policy that supports a worker’s right to join a union, to demand that Toll reinstate Perez immediately.
The Toll drivers received support from the union that represents Toll drivers in Australia, the Transport Workers Union. “This is an issue that has strongly motivated our members across Australia, several of whom travelled to LA to witness the substandard conditions which drivers toil under,” said Tony Sheldon TWU’s national secretary. “We welcome this historic vote to organize at Toll.”
The Teamsters and the Toll drivers hope that this victory will be the first of many that can make port short-haul driving a decent job again. “Our victory means we are finally getting closer to the American Dream,” said Orlando Ayala, a new Teamster member at Toll. “If we can win, I know other port truck drivers across the U.S. can unite just like we did. A voice on the job means management can no longer humiliate us or force us to suffer in poverty while they profit.”