Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA – On Thursday, Sept. 10, thirty-eight (38) misclassified “independent contractor” port truck drivers – many of whom have been on strike against their employer, Pacific 9 Transportation, six times in the last two years and are now entering the tenth week of their sixth strike – concluded an historic six weeks of testimony in back-to-back individual hearings before the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), during which they provided evidence of more than $6 million in Wage Theft. On Monday, September 14, the striking drivers, who will be joined on the picket line by drivers from recently-unionized drayage companies Shippers Transport Express and Eco Flo Transportation, will escalate their picketing beginning at 6:00 AM PST at the company’s truck yard in Carson, California.
Beginning on July 27, 2015, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) began an historic series of thirty-eight (38) back-to-back “Wage and Hour” hearings for the 38 “independent contractor” drivers from Pacific 9 Transportation, which hauls cargo on and off the docks for retail giants including Hewlett Packard, Costco, Microsoft, and Foot Locker. The hearings were held despite the company’s quixotic efforts to stay the hearings, filing two separate and unsuccessful motions in Superior Court to stay the hearings, appealing those rulings all the way to the CA Superior to try and stop the hearings – where they were ultimately unsuccessful – allowing the drivers’ voices to be heard.
This escalation in legal activity and labor unrest comes 18 months after Region 21 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced a settlement agreement with the Pac 9 drivers that paved the way to unionization. In that now withdrawn settlement agreement, illegally misclassified Pac 9 drivers were recognized as legal employees in a recent settlement. After an extensive investigation the Region determined there was sufficient evidence that Pac 9’s “independent contractor” drivers are employees and entitled to federal labor law protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). As a result, NLRB Region 21 found that Pac 9 drivers have been subjected to unlawful retaliation and threats for exercising their legal rights to organize a union.
During their testimony before the DLSE July 27 to September 10, 2015, the thirty-eight Pac 9 drivers presented evidence to the Hearing Officer of more than $6 million in unlawful deductions, unreimbursed expenses, and unpaid meal and rest break premiums. That amount does not include liquidated damages, interest, and waiting time penalties, all of which will be determined in the final decision, adding an additional liability to Pac 9 of at least $2 million. In the coming weeks, the Labor Commissioner’s Office is expected to issue a decision determining whether or not the drivers are in fact employees and how much they are owed by Pac 9.
Misclassification, wage theft, and tax fraud – the strategy the $12 Billion drayage industry has used coast-to-coast to decrease tax liability and increase profits – has infested the port trucking industry. Drivers at our nation’s largest port complex, the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are leading the way for change with more than 500 Wage & Hour claims filed with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) and at least twenty individual and class action lawsuits filed in California courts. To protest the persistent denial of employee rights – and harassment, intimidation, and retaliation against them in their quest to be classified as employees – California port drivers have gone on strike seven times in the last two years, and drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation remain on strike today.
As a result of drivers’ persistent efforts – and their steadfast support from labor, community, faith, environmental, academic, and political allies – the drayage industry is beginning to undergo drastic change as companies that properly classify their drivers as employees, like Shippers Transport Express and Eco Flow Transportation, prove to be successful and are setting a new standard of doing business. These businesses are growing, and hundreds of drivers have been able to exercise their labor rights and successfully join the Teamsters union. Nevertheless, thousands of port drivers – whose employers have attempted deny them their labor and employment rights by misclassifying them as “independent contractors” – are continuing their fight.