A report on the current state of the professional truck driving industry in the US estimated that, in California alone, “port trucking companies … are annually liable for wage and hour violations of $787 million to $998 million” and that drivers are paid poverty-level wages, have no healthcare coverage, and have to deal with rampant safety violations.
Yesterday, more than 120 truck drivers working at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which are responsible for handling nearly 40 percent of goods imported to the US, decided to fight back.
Drivers at three major trucking companies, backed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, went on strike, demanding an end to labor law violations, intimidation for pro-union activities, and the misclassification of drivers as independent contractors, This misclassification means the companies do not have to pay benefits they normally would to non-contracted workers.
This is the fourth strike initiated by the drivers whose companies service major retail chains like Target and Walmart, but the first to not have a definite end date. The previous strikes lasted anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.
Drivers with Total Transportation Services Inc., one of the companies with drivers on strike, filed a complaint in April of this year, citing conditions that they consider to be “serious hazards.” These conditions included dust in the truck yard so thick that drivers had problems breathing, and reported nosebleeds and other health problems to the point that they began wearing masks to protect themselves.
In June, the federal government accused Green Fleet Systems, also one of the companies involved in the strike, with over 50 labor law violations. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint said the company had fired drivers for union activity, retaliated against pro-labor employees, and had planted an anti-union operative in its workforce, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The complaint also states that Green Fleet improperly put workers’ union activities under surveillance, coerced employees into anti-union petitions, and tried to force drivers to withdraw wage claims filed.
“We were fed up,” Alex Paz, a former driver with Total Transportation Services, told MSNBC. “It just got the point where the drivers are done.” Paz, who was fired earlier this year, believes that the firm retaliated against him after he spoke up about the company’s labor law violations.