OOIDA-backed California bill advances to deter 'mistreatment' of truckers

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 7/11/2018

One bill nearing approval at the California statehouse is intended to end the “rampant exploitation” of truck drivers who haul cargo from the state’s ports.

About 25,000 truck drivers move goods between California’s 11 ports and various inland distribution centers, according to a bill analysis. In fact, more than 40 percent of U.S. shipping-container traffic flows through the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland.

The Assembly Labor and Enforcement, and Judiciary committees have each advanced a bill to deter shippers from using port drayage motor carriers with unpaid wage, tax, and worker’s compensation liabilities. The Senate has already approved the bill on a 22-12 vote.

Previously speaking on the bill on the Senate floor, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said his bill would “clean up our port truck driving industry once and for all.”

The bill, SB1402, would require joint and several liability for customers who contract with port drayage carriers who have unsatisfied judgments regarding unpaid wages, damages, expenses, penalties, and workers’ compensation liability.

A list of trucking companies would be created to show who has failed to pay final judgments. Retailers hiring port trucking companies with final judgments would be liable for future state labor and employment law violations by these companies.

Lara has said an investigation a year ago by USA Today highlights the need for change. He highlighted the investigation’s findings that “port trucking companies in Southern California have spent the past decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford.”

He added that the investigation found instances where drivers “end up owing money to their employers – essentially working for free.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the legislation.

The Association has more than 161,000 members nationwide, including about 5,380 residing in California and thousands more that operate on the state’s highways and ports each day.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s manager of government affairs, says many of California’s port drayage drivers are mistreated.

“They work long hours in awful conditions and are utterly undercompensated,” he said. “We’ve long considered it to be a modern form of indentured servitude.”

Matousek adds that the workers are also often misclassified through “lease-purchase” agreements. He describes the agreements as “schemes where motor carriers lease a truck to a driver with the promise of fair compensation, future ownership of the truck, and ‘independence’ from traditional employer-employee requirements.”

In reality, these indentured servants are paid pennies on the dollar, will likely never own the truck, and have zero independence.”

The Association communicated to Lara there are legitimate lease agreements between motor carriers and independent contractors that can be successful and should be protected.

Matousek said Lara’s bill would address concerns about lease-purchase agreements without jeopardizing legitimate business agreements between motor carriers and leased owner-operators.

“SB1402 would meet both of these goals and hold others in the supply chain accountable for using carriers that are known to misclassify workers.”

The bill has moved to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A vote on the Assembly floor could come soon. Passage by the full chamber would send the bill back to the Senate for approval of minor changes before heading to the governor’s desk.

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