Labor disputes between Southern California port truckers and shipping companies intensified this week as a group of truck drivers began a strike on Tuesday. A group of truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest cargo hub in the U.S., accuse the shipping companies of unfair labor practices and wage theft.
The port drivers accuse management of engaging in wage theft by classifying them as contractors and deducting truck-leasing charges, repair costs and other expenses from their paychecks.
As a result, many truck drivers end up earning less than minimum wage as a typical driver can be short-changed by about $60,000 per year. Drivers have also cited safety concerns due to sleep deprivation because it isn’t uncommon for them to work up to 100 hours per week.
Port truckers have described typical work weeks in which they gross about $2,500 for about 80 hours of work, but only take home about $1,100 after company deductions. In addition, in instances in which truckers are unable to work or they don’t drive enough to cover rental and maintenance expense, drives will often owe their employers money. Coupled with lack of health coverage and workers compensation, drivers are often forced to work while sick or injured.
Management has rebuffed the driver’s demands thus far, and port of Los Angeles and Long Beach spokespeople have stated that the strikes have been minimal and operations have been unaffected.
However, the leadership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) hopes this may begin a groundswell which sparks reform nationally.
In a statement, IBT’s Barb Maynard said: “Workers who are misclassified as independent contractors are robbed of basic workplace protections like the right to minimum wage, overtime pay and a safe and helpful workplace.”
While unionization of warehouse workers would take years to accomplish, a partnership between IBT and the advocacy group Warehouse Workers Resource Center hope to enact significant changes to employment dynamics throughout the industry. IBT organizers plan to expand picketing this week.