More than 120 truck drivers who usually work at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports walked off the job and set up picket lines Monday, organizers said, in a protest against what they contend are widespread workplace violations.
As with previous protests, the walkout is focusing on a few regional trucking companies. But the protest had little effect on port operations during the day, spokesmen for both ports said. Several terminals were closed during the day because of a labor holiday.
Unlike previous strikes, drivers — backed by Teamsters Local 848 — haven't set an end date.
The truckers argue that they are improperly classified as independent contractors, leaving them with fewer workplace protections and lower pay than if they were company employees. They have also faced retaliation for supporting unionization efforts, organizers contend.
Drivers on Monday picketed three harbor-area firms: Total Transportation Services Inc., Green Fleet Systems and Pacific 9 Transportation.
The companies blamed the strike on "outside interest groups" whose efforts have been rejected by "an overwhelming majority of contractors and drivers," spokesman Alex Cherin said.
The three firms have about 400 trucks registered to serve the two ports, about 4% of the total registered to do so, Long Beach port spokesman Lee Peterson said.
The strike was the fourth such protest in the last year, as tensions between drivers and companies escalated. In cases involving 17 trucking companies, the state Department of Industrial Relations has ruled in recent months that nearly 40 drivers were improperly designated as contractors. So far, $4.3 million in back pay and penalties has been awarded to drivers.
Striking truckers have vowed to follow the companies' rigs from their yards to cargo terminals at the ports, leaving dockworkers with a choice of whether to honor picket lines. If they do, it could imperil trade at the L.A. and Long Beach ports, which handle roughly 40% of U.S. imports.
But no trucks had left the companies' yards as of midafternoon, according to spokespersons for the companies and protesters.
A six-year contract covering nearly 20,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1. But on Monday, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents employers, agreed to an extension until Friday morning.
Of Southern California's roughly 12,000 short-haul truckers, only 10% are directly employed by companies, industry experts estimate. In 2008, California started to crack down on trucking companies that misclassified employees as independent contractors.
The state labor commissioner's office is examining more than 300 claims of wage theft related to misclassification. In 2011, drivers filed just two such complaints.