The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to push forward with a plan to begin addressing the port trucker misclassification issues that have existed at the Long Beach and Los Angeles port complex for years.
Drivers who are currently entered into contracts with their workers where they lease to own their trucks, are charged maintenance and insurance on their trucks through weekly deductions from their pay and those who are misclassified as independent contractors could see some relief if the council’s plan bares teeth.
With the 9-0 vote the council has directed its state and federal legislative committees to take up the issue by supporting existing and future legislation that seeks to address the port trucker crisis. It also requested the city attorney to work with state leaders to explore options to support regulatory enforcement as well as request that the harbor commission and tidelands committee hold hearings on the issue with a goal of finding a solution.
Mayor Robert Garcia noted that the port and the city are booming with the port registering its best year on record in 2017. But recent rulings upheld by the state that have issued millions of dollars in fines and restitution to port truck drivers that had filed over 900 complaints of misclassification at the port are proof that there’s’ work to be done.
“Our truck drivers who are working incredibly long hours and are trying to feed their families deserve the dignity of a living wage,” Garcia said.
The vote was largely celebrated by those in attendance who spoke on the topic. Port truck drivers have for years come before the council to share their stories of misclassification, even becoming a major theme during the city’s discussion over increasing the minimum wage, a movement that started in 2015.
Reverend John Forrest Douglas, an associate minister at First Congregational Church in Downtown, said that in the five years he’s lived in the city he has heard the stories of port truck drivers and their battles with wage theft and other work injustices. He agreed with Garcia’s assertion that this is a crisis and asked for urgency in the council’s actions.
“It’s a crisis when a worker completes a day’s work and isn’t given compensation they are due. I think it’s a crisis when hard work is devalued,” Douglas said. “It’s a crisis when workers are misclassified. It’s a crisis when our brothers and sisters have to work so hard just to earn poverty wages. It’s a crisis when companies can be so unethical and so immoral just to save a buck on the shoulders of the workers who are often poor. It’s a crisis that has gone on far too long.”
Max Norris, who identified himself as a member of the Long Beach Democratic Socialists of America, called it a moral issue and a moral crisis while likening the drivers’ plight to that of sharecroppers. He pushed the council to act, not speak in “platitudes”.
“I think the problem here is that a year and a half ago we met here to talk about talking about it,” Norris said. “And now after a year and a half we’re talking about talking about talking about it. When are we going to act?”
Norris pointed out that the Los Angeles City Attorney has already taken more concrete steps to addressing the issue by filing suit against three trucking companies last month in an attempt to put a stop to wage theft being committed at the port.
A bill at the federal level was introduced by a group of democratic lawmakers that sought to simultaneously address the greening of the nation’s ports, but also the misclassification and wage theft issues being felt by drivers at some of the nation’s port complexes. The council signaled it would support current and future bills that take aim at the issues occurring at the Port of Long Beach.
While it’s unclear how long the legislative process will take to unfold, the city could follow in the steps of Los Angeles and seek out litigation against offending truck companies but it has yet to publicly express an interest in taking that route.
The system by which some trucking companies have forced their drivers to operate under, leaving them with paltry paychecks, was documented by a series of articles in USA Today last year. The series framed the issue as a modern day indentured servitude where workers are chained financially to their truck leases, with some drivers losing their trucks and all of the money invested into them when they were let go by the companies.
Long Beach Community College District Trustee Vivian Malauulu who also works at the port said that other issues need to be addressed at the port as the city seeks to create a more sustainable model of getting cargo on and off ships at the nation’s largest port complex.
Malauulu said a large issue is a logistical breakdown where not enough workers are present to process the thousands of containers that go through the port on a daily basis. This leads to long delays which impacts the already misclassified drivers who are paid by the load, not the hour.
“We can have an outside trucker come into the port at nine in the morning and he might not get serviced until 2:00PM because a computer will break down, because there’s not enough manning, because somebody else bumped him,” Malauulu said. “The logistics of it is what truly needs to be addressed.”