Company says California AG going after port carriers over ‘politics’

| 11/18/2008

One trucking company that was sued by California’s attorney general has responded by saying the state is improperly prosecuting the company criminally through civil litigation for “political gain.”

Beginning in September, California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a series of civil lawsuits against two drayage trucking companies operating at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles – alleging the firms “abuse their workers by denying them protections under state workers’ compensation, disability and minimum wage laws.”

Brown alleged then that one of those companies – PAC Anchor Transportation Inc., and owner Alfredo Barajas – used “a shell game” in which Barajas supplied the company with 38 trucks and drivers. Pac Anchor directly paid the drivers and avoided higher operating costs and taxes and benefits by providing them with 1099 tax forms at the end of the year.

In a court filing in early November, PAC Anchor Transportation Inc. responded to Brown’s suit and defended its business practices as protected by federal law and Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The company also referenced involvement by the Teamsters Union in ongoing changes at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which include those ports’ recent implementation of the Clean Trucks Program.

Court documents state: “PAC Anchor Transportation Inc. is informed and believes and thereon alleges that the plaintiff, for political gain, is seeking to improperly use its police power to fundamentally alter and invalidate existing employment relationships between these answering defendants by attempting to reclassify all hired workers as employees of PATI – rather than as independent contractors … so that the Teamsters (to whom the Attorney General is beholden) can unionize the newly transformed employees and transform them into Teamsters.”

Brown’s original filing in September was accompanied by some stinging statements against motor carriers at the ports.

“We are cracking down on these two companies and investigating several others that are taking advantage of their workers and cheating the state out of payroll taxes,” Brown said in a statement in September. “These are low-paid truck drivers working long hours under onerous conditions who are not getting the benefits they deserve.”

In its answer, the company said independent contractors working for the company chose to be contractors rather than employees, and also said they believe Brown purposefully attempted to coerce testimony from another member of the Barajas family by exploiting the similar names of company officer Alfredo Barajas and his father, Alfredo Barajas Ramirez. Alfredo Barajas Ramirez is named in the state’s civil suit filing.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer