Port truck drivers launch strike to protest alleged labor violations

About two dozen truck drivers picket in front of Green Fleet Systems in Carson.
About two dozen truck drivers picket in front of Green Fleet Systems in Carson.
(Ricardo Lopez / Los Angeles Times)
<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

A two-day limited strike by truck drivers that haul cargo out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach kicked off early Monday at a Carson trucking company, launching the drivers’ largest demonstration to date.

More than 100 truck drivers are picketing at three trucking companies and following trucks from those companies as they pick up cargo from the nation’s largest port complex. The drivers, backed by the Teamsters Local 848 union, allege widespread workplace violations, organizers said.

Justice for Port Truck Drivers, the union-backed group organizing the strike, has accused trucking companies of wrongfully classifying truck drivers as independent contractors, a classification that denies drivers workplace protections such as overtime and mandated work breaks. It also results in lower pay, the group said.


[Updated, 8:56 a.m. PDT April 28: Alex Cherin, a spokesman for the trucking firms and executive director of the Harbor Trucking Assn., issued a statement saying the Teamsters are continuing to battle an issue that “a vast majority of harbor truck drivers have soundly rejected time and time again.”

“There are literally hundreds of unfilled vacancies for company drivers throughout Southern California,” Cherin said. “If a driver wants to become an employee, rather than an independent contractor, he or she can do so.”]

The strike is the third in the past year. In recent months, tensions have escalated between the trucking companies and drivers, dozens of whom have filed wage-theft complaints with the state labor commissioner’s office.

So far, port drivers in California have filed more than 500 complaints of wage theft related to misclassification, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations. The agency said 32 drivers have won decisions against 13 trucking firms, securing $3.8 million in wages and penalties.

Organizers notched a victory last month when Pacific 9 Transportation, a major trucking company, agreed to post notices acknowledging the workers’ right to organize.

At Green Fleet Systems, the site of one of three picket lines, about two dozen drivers carried picket signs reading: “Stop this unlawful war on workers.” Green Fleet drivers, backed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 848, have been pushing to unionize, a move strongly opposed by Green Fleet.

Byron Contreras, 45, was among Green Fleet drivers protesting what he said was the wrongful termination of two drivers who recently were fired for standing up for their rights, he said.

The Lakewood resident said the company has retaliated against workers who seek to form a union.

“I’m here to support these guys,” he said as the group of truckers blocked the trucking company’s driveway.

Trucks driving past would occasionally honk their horns in support. So did a passing train.

Teamsters have fanned out at three trucking companies’ locations: Green Fleet and Pac 9 Transportation in Carson and Total Transportation Services Inc. in Wilmington. They also plan to conduct picketing of trucks as they enter the ports, organizers said.

California in 2008 began cracking down on trucking companies that misclassified employees as independent contractors. Jerry Brown, then the attorney general, filed at least five suits against Southern California trucking companies on allegations of circumventing labor laws.