Thanks to the California Employment Development Department (California EDD), along with other state and federal agencies, over 10,000 truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will qualify for employee benefits and assistance in the worst case scenario of a port shutdown, which would otherwise leave them idled and without pay.
According to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Port Division, because the California EDD and other state and federal agencies recently determined that port drivers are being unlawfully misclassified as “independent contractors” when they are, in fact, employees, they are now eligible to receive some assistance if left with no work and therefore, no income.
At a joint press conference Wednesday morning, local dignitaries, union representatives, advocates and truck drivers spoke in support of the effort to secure unemployment benefits and other financial assistance for port truck drivers if, in fact, the twin ports shut down due to stalled negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA.
Nick Weiner of Justice for Port Drivers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Port Division opened the conference by saying that port truck drivers have historically been treated as “the orphans of the global supply chain,” due to their misclassification as independent contractors, as well as other issues such as deregulation and community resentment due to unhealthy diesel emissions.
"[Port truck drivers are] stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder,” he continued, “because they had no collective bargaining power to negotiate a fair day's pay for a hard day's work.”
He emphasized that in the past, if the port endured a shutdown for any reason, truckers would be stuck having to pay truck lease and insurance payments, despite not being able to work. As independent contractors, all business expenses were placed on them, said Weiner.
“Last month a leading port trucking company, Shippers Transport Express, was the first since deregulation 30 years ago, to not only take responsibility for its drivers by acknowledging their employment but also negotiated the first union contract with the Teamsters after the majority of drivers signed the union authorization cards,” he continued. “And the Teamsters are in confidential settlement talks with several more leading trucking companies because drivers have begun to stand up, unite and fight to demand a seat at the economic table.”
Weiner explained that if the ports shut down, drivers will be able to rely on Teamsters Local 848 and the Rapid Response Team, made up of the EDD, Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, Labor Community Services AFL-CIO and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA) to help them financially.
“I am an employee although my company will not believe it,” said Jose Varela, a misclassified “independent contractor” employed by QTS, in a statement. “There is a lot of uncertainty about what’s happening at the ports right now, so we appreciate the help we are receiving from the Teamsters, and from the EDD in the case that the crisis is not averted.”
Bishop Todd Ervin of CLUE-LA, who stated that he is an ex-truck driver who has felt the effects of being misclassified, announced CLUE-LA's support of the Rapid Response Team, saying that “if a strike should occur [...] we must make sure these drivers have financial support, they’re able to still eat every day, them and their families[…].”
Eric Tate, Secretary-Treasurer for Teamsters Local 848 announced that “in the event there is a shutdown of the ports, we’re going to make sure that each and every truck driver that drives into the port, knows that they can come here to Teamsters Local 848, to get unemployment benefits, even though they are misclassified as lease drivers.”
Tate continued by explaining that Teamsters Local 848 will supply its members, such as Shippers Transport Express and Toll, among other trucking companies, with $300 a week if a shutdown were to occur, to help their truckers keep up with their bills.
Janice Hahn, Congresswoman of the 44th District, U.S. Congress, congratulated port truck drivers for their hard work and successful demands to be classified as employees, saying that “the hardworking truck drivers who move our freight and goods in this country and help make our ports the economic engine that they are, matter to not just this area, but you matter to the economy of the country."
"You’ve won higher pay," she continued. "You’ve won better benefits, you’ve won vacation and sick days and retirement security, and you’ve won, what we’re talking about today, which is the protection of a safety net that will be there for you if you need it.”
Hahn acknowledged the lack of control that truck drivers have over the industry. "Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you’re not able to work," she said, referring to the ongoing negotiations between the ILWU and the PMA.
“And I also urge both sides to not impact the work at our ports,” Hahn continued, compelling the PMA to avoid suspending operations. “Actually there’s no reason for PMA, even in the midst of negotiations to not allow our workers to unload and load the ships and the drivers to haul the cargo. They could actually be negotiating much longer, if they want to, but they ought to keep our ports ready and operating at the maximum level, that’s what this country wants.”
The Rapid Response Team, including Labor Community Services, AFL-CIO will partner with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO to provide licensed financial planners to help port drivers develop a financial strategy if a port shutdown occurs, while food, medical referrals and utility assistance will also be included in the Rapid Response Team's ability to assist. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters will assist drivers to prove their misclassification as "independent contractors" and to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.
Erick Serrato, Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, Patricia Castellanos, Harbor Commissioner, Port of Los Angeles, Taro Sullivan, Labor-Community Services AFL-CIO, Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, as well as two port truck drivers also spoke at the press conference, thanking the Rapid Response Team and Teamsters Local 848 for their support.
In the event of a port shutdown, drivers are encouraged to visit the Rapid Response Team Headquarters, located at Teamsters Local 848 at 3888 Cherry Ave. to receive employee benefits and assistance.