House bill aims to address mistreatment of port truck drivers

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | Thursday, October 26, 2017

U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., announced a bill on Thursday, Oct. 26, that she says will address a broken employment system that forces thousands of port truck drivers into illegal lease-to-own contracts that require drivers to work under severely unfair conditions.

Reps. Napolitano and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., were joined by truck drivers from the Ports of Los Angeles; Long Beach, Calif.; and New Jersey, as well as by leaders from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Many of the truck drivers were carrying signs with such phrases as “wage theft stops here,” “honor America’s workers,” and “we the people demand good jobs.”

The Port Drivers’ Bill of Rights Act of 2017 would create a taskforce to review the system and crack down on bad actors.

“Hundreds of port truck drivers are being forced to work as independent operators as a way for their employer to pay them below the minimum wage and deny them benefits,” Napolitano said at the news conference.

“These truck drivers are forced to lease-purchase a truck they can’t afford. A common example is a truck driver being paid $150 a day but having to pay leasing fees of $140 per day, only making $10 a day. Some truck drivers are actually making less than the lease payment and are in debt to them. If a truck driver misses one payment, their rig is taken from them. It is unthinkable that companies can continue to get away with this scheme to underpay hard working truck drivers.”

The bill follows a USA Today investigative report that looked into illegal subcontracting schemes that exploit truck drivers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“These lease-purchase programs are fairly common throughout trucking where well-meaning and hard-working people are exploited because they are sold a bill of goods,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“This is legislation introduced in Congress that will set up a task force to examine and research these issues with hopefully a balanced group that will actually be able to focus on and pursue real remedies. If the end result of lease-purchase programs don’t produce a positive outcome, then they can’t be beneficial to anyone. … It’s a problem that needs to be remedied.”

The Teamsters also spoke out on the issue.

“For years, port truck drivers across the country have been forced to work long hours, often exceeding maximum hours of service set by the United States to keep America safe, in order to pay the company to lease and maintain their truck,” Fred Potter, the vice president at large at the Teamsters, said in a news release.

Some port drivers were in attendance at the news conference to share their stories.

“Sometimes we have to wait up to 10 hours to start work, and we don’t get paid for that,” said Carlos Orellana, a port truck driver from the Port of New York and New Jersey. “When we ask what’s going on and why we can’t just pick up our load, we don’t get a straight answer. Often, we make so little that we can’t take anything to take home to our families.”

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