Port driver files class action complaints against two California drayage companies

By Clarissa Hawes, Land Line staff writer | 3/3/2014

Two new class action lawsuits have been filed against two Southern California-based drayage companies by a former port driver who worked for both companies.

This comes just days after a report was released by labor groups, which was critical of port companies that allegedly misclassify port drivers as independent contractors. 

The companies named in separate class action complaints were Pacific 9 Transportation Inc. of Carson, Calif., and Coast Bridge Logistics Inc. of Compton, Calif. Both drayage companies haul containers to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The named plaintiff in both cases is Victor Castro, who drove for both Pacific 9 and Coast Bridge. The similar complaints state that both companies misclassify drivers as independent contractors, fail to pay wages and overtime and fail to provide meal and rest breaks to its employee drivers and crew members.

According to court documents, both complaints seek to include members in the class, including current and former port drivers of both companies, dating back four years prior to the filing of the suits.

Castro claims in both complaints that the companies employed him and others as independent contractors “even though the work performed and conditions of employment were that of an employee.”

Castro maintains that the port workers drove company-owned trucks. The company “directs and controls the way the drivers perform their work, including controlling their schedule, where they deliver product and how they work.”

The lawsuits were filed on Feb. 24 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Cheryl Bame, public relations spokeswoman for the law firm Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP of Los Angeles, Calif., told Land Line recently that this is the fourth class action lawsuit the firm has filed against Southern California-based trucking companies regarding misclassification claims.

Bame said Pacific 9 pays its drivers a fixed price per delivery, but does not provide “any employee benefits because they wrongfully misclassify them as independent contractors.

“In fact, the employees are controlled … and cannot be reasonably characterized as independent contractors,” Bame told Land Line in late February.

She said Castro, who worked for Pacific 9 and Coast Bridge, is bringing these actions “to recover lost wages as a result of this wrongful practice.”

A new report outlining the harsh plight of misclassified port drivers was released by labor groups in mid-February. That report, titled “The Big Rig Overhaul: Restoring Middle-Class Jobs at America’s Ports Through Labor Law Enforcement,” was a collaborative effort between three labor groups, including the National Employment Law Project, Change to Win Strategic Organizing Center, and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. The project was supported by the Teamsters Union.

The report emphasizes the need for fair pay through proper classification of port workers. It states that as many as 49,000 of the nation’s 75,000 port drivers are misclassified by the companies they work for in this country.

Using data from existing claims, researchers state that port trucking companies are liable for an estimated $850 million per year in wage and hour violations in California alone.

Port drivers have started fighting back against misclassification practices and have filed approximately 400 complaints with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for “wage theft violations related to misclassification.”

Companies that misclassify port drivers have an unfair financial advantage over companies that properly classify their drivers. Misclassifying drivers “violates state and federal labor and tax laws, including provisions related to wage and hour standards, income taxes, unemployment insurance, organizing, collective bargaining and workers’ compensation,” according to the report.

The report cites numerous legal cases where port drivers have been misclassified as independent contractors. In these cases, their employers exercised total control over the work schedules and pay of drivers.

Many port drivers have been forced to upgrade their equipment to comply with strict emissions standards and have entered pricey leasing deals with the companies they work for in order to keep their jobs. While they bear the cost of truck ownership, operation and maintenance expenses, they are not allowed to set their own rates and typically aren’t allowed to haul loads for other companies for fear of termination or retaliation.

See related story:
New labor report outlines harsh plight of misclassified port drivers

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