NLRB ruling could end independent contractor status for port truck drivers

Truck drivers at the Port of Long Beach, California on March 21 announced a National Labor Relations Board settlement with a trucking firm that could end the practice of misclassifying short-haul truck drivers as independent contractors.

Members of Justice for Port Truck Drivers and Teamster officials at a media conference said that the NLRB Region 21 office had negotiated a settlement between the Teamsters and Pacific 9 Transportation that requires the company to treat its truck drivers as employees.

The California state labor board has also taken action supporting the workers’ claim that they are employees rather than independent contractors.

The NLRB settlement, the result of an unfair labor practices charged filed by Pacific 9 drivers and the Teamsters, requires the company to post notices affirming that the drivers are employees who have the right to organize a union without fear of recriminations from the company.

The company had asserted that the employees were independent contractors, who don’t have the right to form unions.

The NLRB’s ruling could change the employment practices of short-haul trucking companies throughout the US, which since the trucking industry was de-regulated 30 years ago have lowered wages of their drivers by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

“The 30-year debate is over,” said Eric Tate Teamster Local 848 secretary-treasurer at the media conference. “The misclassification lie has been busted. The port drivers are, in fact, employees. The NLRB has said so. . . . Pac 9 has said so. Now every port truck driver who wants to end their sweatshop conditions can bargain collectively to climb the economic ladder into the middle class.”

The unfair labor practices charge that led to the settlement was filed in 2013.

Drivers at Pacific 9 complained that when they began talking about forming a union, management began interrogating them about their union activities and threatened to close down operations if the workers continued to try to organize a union.

The company denied the charge and argued that the drivers were independent contractors who aren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

Low pay and general lack of respect from the company drove workers to consider forming a union.

“I work more than full time for Pac 9, and the company tells me where to go, what to do, and how much I will be paid,” said Amador Rojas, a Pacific 9 driver. “I do the exact same work and in the same way as employee drivers, but I earn a lot less because the company deducts their business expenses from my paycheck.”

Short-haul drivers misclassified as independent contracts pay for truck maintenance, fuel, parking, insurance, and vehicle fees that according to the Los Angeles Times, reduce take home pay to as little as $20,000 a year.

“We are making peanuts over there,” said Daniel Linares, a Pacific 9 driver to the Times at the media conference. “Some people working at McDonald’s, they  make more money than us.” We want a union “so we can get decent pay and benefits, in order to lead a decent life.”

Pacific 9 drivers have also filed 50 wage and hours claims against the company that will soon be heard by the California Division of Labor Standards.

The drivers have charged the company with wage theft and making illegal deductions from their paychecks. The claims are worth $5 million.

Other short-haul drivers in the Los Angeles area have made similar claims against their employers. In total, 400 wage theft claims have been filed against Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach trucking companies.

So far, the labor board has ruled on 30 of the claims, found in favor of the drivers in all of them, and awarded $3.5 million in back pay.

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