Strike follows NLRB complaint alleging 20 violations of labor law by Universal Logistics Holdings-affiliated companies

On Monday essential port truck drivers, including drivers who were illegally fired after voting to form a union, went on strike to protest flagrant violations of federal labor law, and rampant misclassification by affiliated enterprises of Universal Logistics Holdings (ULH), a multi-billion dollar logistics company and one of the largest trucking companies serving Southern California.

Drivers organized a picket line outside ULH’s Southern Counties Express trucking yard, demanding that ULH’s affiliated enterprises follow the law, reinstate the unit of illegally fired drivers with back pay, respect drivers’ right to form a union, bargain in good faith for a fair contract, and cease misclassifying drivers as independent contractors. 

“The Teamsters refuse to stand by as Universal Logistics Holdings affiliated enterprises illegally fire unionized drivers and deliberately transfer their work to locations with drivers misclassified as independent contractors in order to keep making billions in profits off of their backs, avoiding accountability,” said International Brotherhood of Teamsters Port Division Director Ron Herrera. “We demand justice and accountability for this lawbreaking company, and we stand in solidarity with striking drivers. Port truck drivers have been the backbone of our economy throughout the pandemic and they have kept our communities going through these hard times.” 

The drivers’ unfair labor practice strike comes just weeks after the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against numerous ULH-affiliated companies, including Southern Counties Express and Universal Intermodal Services, finding over 20 egregious violations of federal labor law. 

The Board complaint alleges that ULH/Universal Intermodal Services violated the law by terminating its workforce of unionized drivers shortly following their union election victory in December 2019, as well as by failing and refusing to bargain in good faith for a contract. The company then unlawfully transferred work from the recently unionized facility to ULH/Southern Counties Express, the complaint alleges. Not only are ULH/Southern Counties Express and sister company ULH/Container Connection non-unionized, but drivers at both ULH-affiliated enterprises are also misclassified as independent contractors.

“As Universal employees, we practiced our basic right to organize, demand basic protections and fair wages and join a union — and for that Universal broke the law and retaliated against us,” said port truck driver Romel Mallard. “We refuse to stay silent and will not back down in the face of Universal’s lawbreaking, which hurts all drivers. We demand that they follow the law, provide us back pay, and recognize and bargain with the union that we rightfully won.”

Christmas Retaliation

Employees at ULH/Universal Intermodal Services began organizing in late 2019. Almost immediately, the company fired multiple drivers in an attempt to intimidate other employees seeking to do the same. When employees at one location nonetheless voted to unionize, the employer took retaliatory and preemptive action shortly before Christmas and terminated the entire workforce — not only at that facility, but also numerous workers at two other locations where nascent union organizing efforts existed. 

Universal’s unlawful efforts grew even more insidious when the company transferred work from the unionized Universal employee company, Universal Intermodal Services, to a Universal company with misclassified drivers, Southern Counties Express, as part of its effort to rid itself of union supporters and avoid unionization.

In its complaint, the NLRB also alleged the ULH-affiliated companies operating at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are a single integrated business enterprise constituting a “single employer” and “alter egos” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The board alleged numerous other violations of federal labor law, including:

  • Suspending and terminating two lead union supporters in retaliation for their union activity shortly after they began exercising their rights to organize a union;
  • Terminating/laying off all Roadrunner company drivers in retaliation for and to prevent union activity;
  • Terminating/laying off all Universal Truckload company drivers in retaliation for and to prevent union activity;
  • Reducing drivers’ hours and pay after their union election in retaliation for their union activity and without bargaining with the union;
  • Terminating/laying off entire Universal Intermodal Services unionized workforce following their election victory and moving the work to another ULH-affiliated enterprise, Southern Counties Express, in retaliation for their union activity and without bargaining with the union;
  • Failing and refusing to bargain with the union for a first contract and over a multitude of mandatory subjects of bargaining; and
  • A host of other hallmark violations of the NLRA, such as unlawful interrogation, soliciting grievances and promising benefits, discouraging employees from filing charges with the NLRB, refusing to provide the union with information it is required to provide, and dealing directly with unit employees.

Misclassification Rampant Throughout Port Trucking Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the crisis of misclassified drivers being denied basic protections like sick leave, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, worker compensation and health insurance because of their misclassification as independent contractors.

Just last week, a driver for another ULH-affiliated company, Container Connection, spoke out at a California Senate Labor Committee hearing about the impacts of misclassification on drivers and their families, including wage theft, a lack of safety net protections and an unsafe workplace. He also shared his story on the steps of the Capitol to advocate for three bills to address port driver misclassification, SB 338 (Gonzalez), SB 700 (Durazo) and AB 794 (Carillo).

The driver shared that in March, he and a co-worker filed a Cal/OSHA complaint alleging a systemic failure to protect drivers and demanding that Cal/OSHA conduct an immediate on-site investigation into Container Connection’s lack of a COVID-19 Prevention Program. The complaint details a long list of COVID-19 hazards present throughout the course of the drivers’ day-to-day work, during which they pick up shipping containers at the port and transport them to the warehouses of such companies as Whirlpool and Ross. At virtually every point along the way, the complaint alleges, ULH/Container Connection fails to implement procedures to keep drivers safe from COVID-19.

Misclassification also cheats city, state and local government—and ultimately the public—of tax dollars, and puts high-road employers that comply with the law at a competitive disadvantage. Prior to its purchase by ULH, Container Connection also engaged in shell games to avoid millions of dollars in wage theft judgments, eventually paying workers only after the Labor Commissioner’s Office issued “Stop Work” orders demanding it stop doing work in California until it paid its workers.