State Tells L.A. Port Firm It Can't Pretend Driver Employees Are Contractors

Monday, December 28, 2015

One by one, 38 truckers who service the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach pulled up in front of the California Labor Commissioner and made their pitch to be classified as employees, not independent contractors, and be reimbursed for lost wages.

This month, it was announced, they all won.

Commissioner Julie Su awarded the short-haul drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation $6.9 million in a case that could have ramifications for hundreds of other drivers in similar situations. They do the work of employees, under the direction of the company, but don’t receive benefits, aren’t covered by overtime laws, have to pay both employee and employer ends of withholding taxes, aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance, and lack job security.

“We have finally had our day in court and we are extremely grateful that the government has realized that it isn’t just a handful of drivers that are misclassified—it is all of us,” Pac 9 driver Daniel Linares said in a statement.

Julie Guttman Dickinson, an attorney who has represented individual truck drivers in similar cases, told the Daily Breeze in Torrance that having all the claims decided at once put an exclamation point on the ruling:

“It's efficient and effective, and it sends a message to the industry loud and clear: if you engage in the pervasive misclassification of your drivers—which the vast majority of companies at the port are doing—you are not going to be able to get away with it.”

The commissioner’s office reported that more than 700 truckers have filed complaints since 2012 and has ruled in a some cases during the past couple years. Labor groups say 49,000 port truck drivers are misclassified nationwide. They are an organizing target of unions, who see an opportunity to highlight a decades-long corporate strategy of pretending employees work for themselves.

Entrepreneurs selling services in the “sharing economy,” like Uber, have sought to maximize the monetization of this labor ploy by essentially classifying all employees as contractors under the guise of granting them the freedom to choose their working conditions and hours.

A lot of folks don’t like that, but unions despise it for obvious reasons and have been supporting efforts at the ports to have the classifications changed. The Teamsters helped the drivers organize a series of job actions against Pac 9 after a March 2014 settlement to reclassify them as employees, paving the way for an organizing effort, fell apart.

The Harbor Trucking Association (HTA) called the ruling “biased” and said it shouldn’t be considered a precedent. The decision is subject to review by the Superior Court. “The Labor Commissioner is, consciously or unconsciously, allowing itself to be manipulated by the Teamsters,” association Executive Director Weston LaBar said in the statement.

It’s all about FREEDOM. “The HTA continues to advocate for choices and freedoms. The freedom for drivers to decide whether to be an independent contractor or an employee, as well as the freedom of a company to decide what driver model is best for them.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:     

LA-Long Beach Drayage Firm Loses Driver Classification Case (by Bill Mongelluzzo, Journal of Commerce)

Port Truckers Win Landmark Ruling in Employee Status Hearing (by Donna Littlejohn, Torrance Daily Breeze)

Port Truck Drivers Win Nearly $7 Million in Stolen Wages from Carson-based Trucking Company (by Asia Morris, Long Beach Post)

Port Trucking Firm Ordered to Pay Millions in Back Wages to Dozens of Drivers (by Brian Watt, KPCC)

Port Drivers Win Millions in Back Pay from Trucking Firm (by James Rufus Koren, Los Angeles Times)

“Misclassified” Port Truckers Are Employees, not Contractors (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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