More short-haul port drivers go on strike, seek union membership

About 30 low-wage short-haul drivers at the Port of Los Angeles on August 26 became yet another of a growing group of low-wage workers to go on strike.

Drivers for Green Fleet Systems (GFS) went on a one-day unfair labor practices strike to protest intimidation and harassment by their employer. The strikers said that the company is trying to thwart their attempt to join the Teamsters.

The strikers received support from other workers all over the US, including a group of GFS short-haul drivers in Savannah, Georgia, who are fighting their misclassification as contract employees.

“For too long port drivers have been treated unfairly, and it is time to take a stand,” said Randy Carmack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 and secretary-treasurer of Local 63.

Teamsters Local 848 has been assisting GFS workers in their organizing campaign. Teamsters Local 728 has been helping the GFS workers in Savannah.

“These giant corporations must stop exploiting these workers and cease their intimidation tactics,” added Carmack. “Everyone deserves respect on the job and an opportunity to provide for their families.”

GFS told the Los Angeles Times that it pays some of the highest wages in the industry.

But the short-haul industry is notoriously low-paying.

According to Marketplace, “studies show that port drivers earn an average of $28,000 a year,” well below the $74,605 annual salary the Economic Policy Institute estimates is needed for “a secure yet modest living standard” in the Los Angeles area.

Low wages aren’t the only problem motivating GFS short-haul drivers to organize.

“In the past, GFS management had been very racist towards many of us,” said Francisco Valencia a 12-year veteran port driver who has been with GFS for four years. “They screamed at us and humiliated us in front of everyone. The working conditions and the way that we are treated is not just. We deserve to be treated as human beings.”

Valencia like many of the port drivers is an immigrant. Valencia was born in El Salvador.

In response to he drivers’ organizing campaign, GFS has mounted an anti-union counter-offensive.

The company’s actions caused workers to file unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board. According to the charges, GFS has asked employees to sign an anti-union petition, offered workers wage increases for opposing the unionization effort, and interrogated them about union activities.

If GFS workers win their union organizing drive, they will become the second group of short-haul drivers at the Port of Los Angeles to unionize.

Last year, drivers for Toll Group voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters, and earlier this year, they signed their first collective bargaining agreement.

The GFS drivers in Los Angeles work directly for the company and therefore have the right to join a union and bargain collectively, but most port drivers are classified as contract employees and are denied that right by law.

Many of these drivers say that they’ve been misclassified and should be treated as company employees rather than as contract employees.

One such group of drivers work for GFS in Savannah. When GFS drivers in Los Angeles went on strike, 130 Port of Savannah GFS drivers signed a letter that was sent to a company manager asserting their solidarity with the striking GFS drivers on the West Coast.

In the letter, the workers described their own treatment by the company as similar to that of sharecroppers.

“We are fighting misclassification because all port drivers should have the same rights,” reads the letter. “Port drivers in Savannah are sick and tired of being treated like modern day sharecroppers, just on wheels. This must end and that is why we support Green Fleet drivers who are organizing in Los Angeles.”

The Savannah workers ended their letter by pointing to the similarities between themselves and the GFS drivers in Los Angeles and expressing support for their unionization drive.

“Drivers at Green Fleet Systems have been unfairly treated, harassed, interrogated and intimidated because they are coming together to form their union,” reads the letter. “We call on Green Fleet to stop mistreating its drivers in Los Angeles and respect their right to form a union.”

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