Picket line: Port drivers strike against specific Los Angeles motor carriers

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 4/27/2015

A labor strike slowed shipping times and clogged truck lanes at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach during multiple weekday and weekend stretches during the last year. On Saturday, April 25, a group of port drivers serving Los Angeles and Long Beach voted to strike against major drayage companies serving the twin ports.

The classification of many truck drivers as independent contractors rather than employees remains the core complaint, though both shippers and drivers have continued chicken-and-egg criticism of slow truck turn times and other port inefficiencies.

The Justice for Port Truck Drivers organization posted multiple pictures Monday morning of people picketing at terminals on the social media website Twitter. The pictures were reportedly taken at Pacer Cartage, Pac 9, and International Bridge Transport. The strike extends throughout rail yards in the Los Angeles region and to customer warehouses in Mira Loma, Calif., and south to the U.S.-Mexico border, Justice for Port Truck Drivers said.

By mid-morning, the strike and picket hadn’t slowed truck movement, Port of Los Angeles Spokesman Phillip Sanfield told Land Line.

“There’s no impact as of now,” Sanfield said. “We have some informational pickets at three of our eight container terminals. But so far cargo is flowing.”

Drivers have won legal victories in California and with the U.S. Department of Labor, including a ruling that port drivers at Shippers Transport Express be reclassified as company employees. Being designated as independent contractors prevents access to insurance, workers compensation and other workplace protections.

“The Shippers drivers’ victory has inspired other misclassified drivers to escalate their demands to be recognized as employees and end the wage theft,” a news release from the Teamsters-backed Justice for Port Truck Drivers organization stated. “In their fight to hold onto an illegal business model, company owners are continuing to harass, intimidate, and coerce drivers. Unwilling to wait for the courts to rule as they did in the Shippers case, the drivers have launched a national petition asking Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia to ban lawbreaking for profit from the ports.”

The strike appears to have already led to results for drivers at one company. On Monday, Justice for Port Truck Drivers announced that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had reached a comprehensive “Labor Peace Agreement” with Green Fleet Systems, LLC. The agreement will allow drivers to exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act and select representation for collective bargaining.

After a late February strike, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association reached a five-year labor agreement. Citing the ongoing driver classification dispute, Justice for Port Truck Drivers appeared unmoved by the ILWU agreement.

The ongoing labor battles have stoked complaints from shippers and retailers, particularly during last fall’s pre-holiday retail shipping season. Many have floated the possibility of alternate long-term shipping routes that would divert cargo and jobs from the twin ports. Los Angeles and Long Beach operations combine to form the nation’s largest port.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia reportedly said last week that California port leaders are continuing a dialogue with the Obama administration to ensure U.S. commerce won’t be damaged by labor negotiations.

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