The state of California is home to the largest port complex in the U.S., with Los Angeles and Long Beach receiving a large portion of the country’s freight.
While a hub like this presents opportunities for those in the freight transportation industry, some drivers feel like they’ve been taken advantage of. This has led to national news coverage, protests, and now even legal action over the classification of port drivers.
XPO Logistics, one of the nation’s biggest freight companies, is now being sued by port and rail truckers who want drivers to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.
The problem began when truckers, who have always rushed to the port area because of the abundance of work, found themselves put into similar work arrangements as contracted employees despite being self-employed owner operators.
Drivers had their schedules and work life regulated by carriers like XPO Logistics, but they weren’t awarded all the benefits that usually go along with this arrangement. Namely, drivers were required to pick up the cost of their own truck lease. Combined with the low pay of some positions, this had drivers working 12-hour days and struggling to come out even.
Truckers also allege that XPO payed dirty, withholding jobs and purposely putting drivers in delays that require them to wait hours to do their job. In addition to failing at providing drivers with compensation for their rest and meal breaks (as required by California state law) the carrier also allegedly failed to provide proper wage statements or even pay drivers according to the state’s minimum wage.
An XPO spokeswoman said that she believed drivers value the independent model at the ports, and that her company would continue to defend such a model.
Angel Omar Alvarez, an eight-year driver at the ports for XPO, spoke about the suit, saying: “Misclassification affects me personally as my whole family — I don’t have benefits. They take a lot of money out of my paycheck that they use to pay company expenses.”
Truckers like Alvarez are responsible for their own fuel, repairs to their trucks, and other costs not levied on traditional employees.
XPO’s misclassifications may help increase their profits, making the case even more contentious and pitting the large presence of established companies in the area against the combined efforts of independent drivers.
Should the carrier be found guilty of misclassification, it is likely they’ll have to make a big payout. Other carriers have filed for bankruptcy as a result of the money they were ordered to pay to truckers they’d misclassified. There are also concerns that this lawsuit could lead to even more retaliation, making it harder for drivers who participated in the movement to find work in the future.
But the port truckers have faced labor issues for years now, and they’re finally moving closer to correcting the problem. Should the lawsuit go in the drivers’ favor, it could set in motion a trend that may change labor arrangements in the port area permanently.