L.A. truck drivers strike as tension mounts at ports
Some truck drivers who work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach walked off the job Thursday, organizers said, in a protest against two trucking firms they accuse of wage theft.
The job action — the fifth in about a year — comes amid rising tension between a powerful dockworkers union and multinational shipping lines, which are negotiating a new contract for some 20,000 workers on the West Coast.
It was unclear whether dockworkers would honor picket lines at port terminals. As of late Thursday, no picket lines had been established at terminals, according to a protest spokeswoman. Port officials said the movement of cargo continued.
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.
In a July protest, they put down their picket signs after L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti requested a “cooling-off” period. Protest organizers say the struck companies promised to allow all drivers back to work without retaliation.
But Thursday morning, organizers said drivers from two harbor-area firms, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation, went back on strike, alleging that the companies have since retaliated against them.
Drivers set up picket lines at company yards in Compton and Carson and planned to picket terminals if company trucks entered those locations, said Barb Maynard, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters Union, which is backing the drivers. However, Maynard said the terminals were turning away drivers from Total Transportation and Pacific 9, and no picket lines went up.
Another company, Green Fleet Systems, was also targeted in the July strike. Organizers said truckers did not protest the firm Thursday, because “productive discussions” are underway between Green Fleet and the Teamsters Union. Maynard said she did not know how many truckers walked off the job Thursday.
Alex Cherin, a spokesman for the trucking companies, said the firms had no comment on Thursday’s protests. During the July strike, Cherin said the companies blamed “outside interest groups” whose efforts have been rejected by “an overwhelming majority of contractors and drivers.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Garcetti said Total Transportation Services agreed to meet with the Teamsters at his office “to find a way to get its operation back to work.”
“We urge Pac 9 to come to the table as well,” he said.
The targeted companies make up a small minority of the firms that serve the L.A. and Long Beach ports, which handle about 40% of U.S. imports. There are 1,000 trucking companies registered to haul goods from both ports, said Port of Long Beach spokesman Art Wong.
During the drivers’ July strike, longshoremen honored the picket lines, briefly closing four terminals at the L.A. and Long Beach ports. An arbitrator, however, ruled that the dockworkers’ contract didn’t allow them to leave the job in sympathy with the striking drivers, and the terminals reopened.
However, with no contract in place now, the arbitrator option is unavailable.
Tension between dockworkers and terminal operator employers has risen sharply since July. Both sides have lobbed public accusations against each other in the last week, raising concerns that a lockout or strike could close ports up and down the West Coast.
The public sniping, experts say, signals that both sides have grown frustrated and probably have come to an impasse at the negotiating table.
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