More port drivers join the Teamsters

The Teamsters recently announced that drivers who work for Toll Global Forwarding near the Port of New Jersey voted to join Teamsters Local 469.

This makes the second group of Toll drivers to vote for union membership. Toll drivers at the Port of Los Angeles joined the Teamsters in April 2012.

Teamsters accused Toll, an Australia-based logistics firm, of using illegal tactics to prevent workers from joining the union.

“New Jersey Toll drivers refused to buy into the lies and threats that the company told them and voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters,” said Fred Potter, president of Local 469 in Hazlet, New Jersey and director of the Teamsters Port Division. “Toll drivers in New Jersey now have the same rights as Toll Group drivers in Los Angeles, who are represented by Teamsters Local 848, and as Australian Toll drivers, represented by the (Australian) Transport Workers Union.”

The 112 drivers, who drive short-haul and long-haul trucks, and hostlers, who move trailers within the Toll yard, voted in a union representation election on June 24; the final vote count showed that 70 percent of those voting voted in favor of joining Local 469.

“As a port truck driver, I feel that our fight for dignity and respect on the job has finally been won,” said Fred Schmidt, a Toll driver. “As a Teamster, we will now be able to fight for what we have earned without fear of retribution: a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, affordable medical benefits and real retirement security.”

Prior to the vote, the Teamsters filed a charge against Toll with the National Labor Relations board. The charge accuses Toll of spying on union supporters and trying to intimidate workers into voting against the union.

A Toll executive told the Star Ledger that the charges were baseless.

The Teamsters second victory at Toll is part of an ongoing organizing campaign to bring justice to port trucking business, which underwent a radical transformation after the trucking industry was deregulated in the 1970s.

As a result of deregulation, many port drivers, who haul goods between the nation’s ports and warehouses of the nation’s retailers, now work for low wages.

The Seattle Times in 2011 reported that the average wage for a Port of Seattle truck driver is about $28,500 a year.

One reason for the low pay is that 90 percent of the nation’s 110,000 short-haul port drivers are classified as independent contractors.

Because they are classified by their employer as independent contractors, drivers pay for most of the expenses associated with operating their big rigs.

Some drivers in New Jersey have filed suit claiming that their employer has mislclassified them as independent contractors. As a result, say the plaintiffs, their employer, Ironbound, one of the biggest trucking firms at the Port of New Jersey, has illegally withheld wages to pay for their trucks’ expenses.

In addition to making workers responsible for work-related expenses, being classified as an independent contract prevents workers from bargaining collectively and, in most cases, makes them ineligible for company benefits.

The Teamsters and other unions have charged that companies not only in the port trucking business but across the nation have purposely misclassified workers as independent contractors to lower labor costs and deny workers essential rights.

The US Department of Labor has recognized the problem.

According to the Labor Department,

The misclassification of employees as something other than employees, such as independent contractors, presents a serious problem for affected employees, employers, and to the entire economy. Misclassified employees are often denied access to critical benefits and protections – such as family and medical leave, overtime, minimum wage and unemployment insurance – to which they are entitled. Employee misclassification also generates substantial losses to the Treasury and the Social Security and Medicare funds, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers compensation funds.

As a result, the department has launched a misclassification initiative to reduce the incidence of misclassification.

In May, the department reported that it recovered more than $1 million in back wages and damages for 196 workers misclassified as independent contractors by a firm in Kentucky.

Unlike most port trucking company’s, Toll employees work directly for the company, which makes it possible for them to join unions.

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