Sep 30, 2015
A watershed battle between the Teamsters Union and Pacific 9 Transportation in Southern California may be the tipping point in the union’s efforts to force harbor-trucking companies to reclassify drivers from independent contractors to employees.
If that happens, there will be major changes in the compensation for drivers picking up and delivering containerized truckloads at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
On May 4th, Saybrook Capital’s co-managing partner, Jonathan Rosenthal, joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Teamsters Union leaders in announcing that Saybrook Capital had started a “sister” company, Eco Flow Transportation, that would be an addition to its existing harbor trucking company. Eco Flow will be 100% employee-based and would not oppose Teamsters unionization.
Rosenthal told AJOT that the political winds have changed, “The National Labor Relations Board and the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) are challenging the traditional notion of the owner/operator company. Companies are starting to see challenges by drivers claiming they were actually employees and not owner/operators, despite contracts to the contrary. These challenges are being sustained by the courts and by DLSE.”
Outside Pacific 9’s facility in Carson, California about 30 picketers have been marching and signing up supporters. Truck drivers driving past often honk their horns in support.
Carlos Quintero, 33, was a driver for Pacific 9 Transportation. He has been out of work for a year after injuries suffered from a trucking accident. He would like the company to recognize that he and fellow drivers are employees and not independent contractors and he would like to go back to work for Pacific 9.
He told AJOT that the company promised to reclassify drivers as employees a year ago but still has not done so, even after a finding by the National Labor Relations Board that the drivers are not contractors but employees.
The life of a harbor truck driver is a tough one, he told AJOT, “The company makes you pay for everything when you are a contractor. So on Monday, what you make goes to make payments on the truck. On Tuesday, it’s the fuel and then it’s the insurance. And before you know it, it’s Friday before what you make actually goes to you. And that’s what we live on. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen. For example, with the congestion at the (LA/Long Beach) terminals, sometimes they don’t let you deliver your containers because they don’t have the room. And so, you don’t get paid until the container is delivered. So lots of times, we have to go back to the company parking lot and go sleep in the truck waiting until we can come back and deliver the container. Meanwhile, we’re not making any money. And what’s worse, the company makes us pay for being parked in their own parking lot. A year ago, I was in an accident. Because the company says that I am not an employee, I can’t get workers compensation.”
A spokesman for Pacific 9 Transportation said the company had “no comment.”
Barb Maynard, a spokesperson for the Teamsters Union and its campaign against Pacific 9 Transportation, said that the National Labor Relations Board (NLB) found that Pacific 9 truck drivers were indeed employees and not independent contractors, “The company promised to reclassify the drivers as employees but never did. As a result, the number of claims against Pacific 9 have mounted. They have been filed against the company with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). The claims alleged that the drivers, as employees, are entitled to certain wages. DLSE has found in favor of the drivers and so claims against Pacific 9 Transportation now amount to $6 million, plus $2 million in penalties. Every time the company loses a claim in front of DLSE, it has to post a bond which effectively means that the company must sell a truck to cover driver claims and penalties. Over two years ago when the campaign started, the company had about 180 drivers and they are now down to about half of that. Some drivers have moved on to other jobs, but others have stuck it out. The effect of deregulation of the trucking industry allowed trucking companies to misclassify drivers as independent contractors and not employees forcing them to lead a hand to mouth existence.”
Maynard believes that change is definitely in the wind for harbor truckers, “This is a watershed dispute for harbor truckers. Some trucking companies are already accepting that their drivers should be union and are negotiating with the Teamsters. The creation of Eco Flow Transportation is one such example. The company got started this year and is rapidly picking up more employees who are attracted to a company that treats them as employees and pays them decent wages and … working conditions. The Teamsters are in negotiations with Eco Flow on a new contract for Eco Flow drivers.”
She concludes, “Regardless of whether Pacific 9 goes bankrupt or accepts their drivers as employees, the writing is on the wall for the industry here in the Los Angeles/Long Beach harbors. The companies are gradually recognizing that they need to classify their drivers as employees and that in all likelihood, these drivers will vote to join the Teamsters Union.”