Photos by Maren Machles.
“Si se puede!” was continually chanted as picketers gathered at four terminals Tuesday morning to protest unfair labor treatment at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports as a strike that began Monday continues to roil port operations.
120 drivers from the same three trucking companies whose laborers went on strike last April—Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Service Inc and Pacific 9 Transportation Inc.—have gone on an indefinite strike, completely shutting down the Evergreen terminal according to LAANE Communications Specialist Allison Mannos. This marks the fourth strike of its kind within a year; however, this strike’s indefinite length could disrupt operations more than previous strikes.
In addition to these pickets, dockworkers walked off the job at one of the terminals at Pier F at 9AM yesterday in support of the truckers. However, an arbitrator ruled that dockworkers’ sympathy toward the truckers’ cause was not enough reason to walk off the job, with terminals fully up and running come 11AM.
“It’s a peaceful assembly and our security people are looking out to make sure everyone is aware of their safety while everyone is out there demonstrating,” Lee Peterson, Port of Long Beach spokesman said. “We understand that the picketers are allowed to demonstrate, as long as they do so peacefully.”
There are now more strikers protesting companies other than the original three, encouraging all those that activists call “misclassified” to join in the hopes of unionizing. Additionally, the companies have been accused of retaliating against their employees for the taking specific incidences to court or filing claims. These retaliations include taking away shifts, doling out unfavorable assignments and even firing.
“Enough is enough,” Nick Weiner, campaign director for Teamsters said. “We are trying to get these companies to comply with the law. But every time we try to get them to comply, they retaliate.”
According to the striking laborers, their parent companies are misclassifying the workers (often called troqueros since a large portion of them are Latino) as independent contractors instead of regular, W2 employees.
The work of troqueros has been a battle of contention since many troqueros are not only charged by a company they don’t technically work for to lease the truck, but are also charged for its insurance, maintenance and fuel—on top of the tax burden for being an independent contractor. Their lack of a proper union puts them at the lowest end of the payscale in the trucking industry, earning some $28,000 a year before taxes. The Post has covered efforts to organize these truckers over the years.
According to LAANE’s report on misclassification workers, the “Big Rig Overhaul,” millions of dollars for gas and maintenances have been deducted from the drivers’ paychecks.
“The responsibility ends up getting pushed down on the drivers,” Weiner said. “On a bad week they pay them less per load… Drivers, on some weeks, end up with a negative paycheck.”
Byron Contreras, a driver striking against Green Fleet, just wants respect and the right to unionize.
“The companies have done nothing but retaliate against us because we are just trying to organize,” said Contreras. “I want a better future for my family and mainly I’m doing it for the respect and the dignity for me and the rest of my co-workers.”
The drivers, as well as many other members of the community and supporters, came out to a press conference at the ports declaring that they would not rest until they saw that their demands were met.
“When you go on strike, you and your entire family have to make that sacrifice,” Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Maria Elena Durazo said. “Their wages are getting are getting stolen every single day. That is the crime. Those bosses should be thrown in jail for doing what they do.”