In the Los Angeles and Long Beach areas, the ports are a constant source of goods – and work for those in the freight transportation industry.
Truck drivers have historically flocked to the location in hopes of getting extra business from local carriers with a shortage of roster talent or who simply need to onboard temporary talent to manage higher freight volumes.
What sounds like a great opportunity for consistent work or even a few hundred extra miles on a paycheck now seems a bit exploitative in hindsight.
This is because port truckers have been increasingly vocal about the employee misclassification they suffered and the issues that followed. Drivers with limited English skills and few contacts were onboarded as independent contractors while being treated like employees.
Though their work arrangements and schedules were largely regulated by the carriers employing their services, their listing as independent drivers meant they missed out on many benefits – including having their lease costs covered.
Such an arrangement left many drivers working ten and twelve hour days just to cover their expenses, struggling to come out ahead or even break even.
The culprit? Even last year, when the protests started gaining national attention, big-box retailers were thrust into the spotlight for reportedly enabling the vicious cycle. It seems as long as corporations are willing to use this cheap labor, port carriers are willing to keep supplying it.
Stopping the problem at the source seems like the only real long-term solution, and this is exactly what California lawmakers are attempting with a new bill. State legislators offered a proposal which would leave companies cheating workers on a public list complete with their violation history.
This would make any instances of worker exploitation due to misclassification known to future employers. If retailers worked with these corporations, they could be held jointly liable in the event of another violation.
Though on the surface the bill appears to be a great asset to workers, not everyone agrees. Overregulation can limit a driver’s ability to choose their work arrangement.
Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, said: “This is another example of a California politician who doesn’t understand the drayage (port trucking) industry. This assault on the trucker’s right to choose their business model needs to stop.”
Over the past decade, over 1,100 complaints have been filed by port truckers to civil courts and labor boards over misclassification. Since 2012, about $40 million has been handed down to drivers who claimed they were mistreated by port companies.
Many companies are known for their ability to dodge these payouts, though. Using bankruptcy protections or “shell companies,” some carriers have been able to get out of trouble even when legal action is used against them.
The trucking industry should be doing everything possible to end worker’s horror stories. Tales like these serve as warnings to new drivers – in an industry where rosters are below where they need to be, and with turnovers remaining high, these disputes are even worse.