A bill on its way to the California governor’s desk 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 senate voted 26-12 to sign-off on changes to a bill to deter shippers from using port drayage motor carriers who have unpaid wage, tax and worker’s compensation liabilities. Assembly lawmakers previously voted 53-26 to advance the bill. SB1402 now moves to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has communicated to his fellow lawmakers that his bill would “clean up our port truck driving industry once and for all.”
The bill 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.
The state labor commissioner would be charged with creating a list of trucking companies 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 referred to 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.”
A bill analysis notes that critics say California law “already provides an adequate pathway for civil liability for a business that is actually controlling the employees of another.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports the legislation.
The Association has more than 160,000 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.”
In submitted comments on the bill at the statehouse, the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council wrote that “SB1402 will help drain the labor law swamp in California’s port drayage industry by creating a simple, inexpensive and easily followed system that encourages accountability by all market participants.”
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.”
Matousek said Lara’s bill addresses 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.”
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