State Senator Ricardo Lara joined port truck drivers and advocates in Sacramento today in support of a recently introduced bill that targets retailers who hire trucking companies that violate labor and wage laws as the state senate prepares for its first hearings on the Dignity in the Driver’s Seat bill.

The bill (SB-1402) was introduced by Lara earlier this month and is cosponsored by Senator Steven Bradford of Gardena as well as Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego. The bill seeks to create a list of offenders that have unpaid final judgements against them for misclassifying port truck drivers, not paying fair wages and other labor abuses. If passed, retailers that contract with these companies could be held jointly liable for future damages.

“We’re telling our biggest companies that if you turn a blind eye to the abuses by trucking companies you employ you will be held liable once and for all,” Lara said with drivers and union representatives standing behind him. “We need our nation’s biggest retailers to get off the sidelines and use their market power for good just as they’ve done to fight against sweatshops around the world.”

New State Bill Could Hold Retailers Liable For Future Port Truck Driver Wage Theft Claims

Lara’s district, which includes the Port of Long Beach, is part of the country’s largest port complex and has been the source of multiple media reports over the past decade of abuses suffered by drivers.

Accounts of taking home paychecks of mere dollars after a week’s work due to the fees and maintenance costs passed onto drivers by some trucking companies were highlighted nationally last year in a four-part series run by USA Today starting in June 2017.

Lara said that as a senator from Long Beach there was no way that he was not going to lead the effort to address these abuses.

“These used to be good jobs and we have to makes sure today that these are good jobs moving forward,” Lara said.

The bill has support from a large number of labor organizations and neighborhood coalitions and is being opposed by entities like the California Trucking Association (CTA).

In arguments submitted prior to the hearing, the CTA said that independent truck operators should be able to maintain the right to remain independent and pointed to recent efforts by the bill’s sponsors that it alleged were moves to force some companies and drivers to join into employee-employer relationships.

The CTA said that in a 2014-2015 analysis carried out by the CTA and the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP) that independent truckers made about $17,000 more than the median pay for employee drivers in the state.

“For more than four years, port drayage motor carriers have been subjected to a coordinated campaign by this bill’s sponsor that enlists the State in an attempt to transform the relationship between thousands of independent owner-operators from a business-to-business transaction into an employer-employee relationship,” the CTA’s statement said.

Demanding Employee Status, Wage-Theft Protection, Truck Drivers’ Protest Continues at Port Complex

But port drivers disagree with the assessment laid out by the CTA. Those gathered in Sacramento today retold their stories of how the current owner-operator model that some have been forced to work under has gutted their wages though deductions to pay for gas, maintenance and ownership of the trucks they need to carry out their jobs.

Daniel Aneseko “Seko” Uaina, who has been one of the faces of the port driver movement to end wage theft and misclassification, said that Lara’s bill could be a relief for those who have suffered under the current system.

“As the companies have carved out wages they have carved out the dignity of drivers,” Seko said. “But with the introduction of SB-1402 , Senator Lara’s bill, the Dignity in the Driver’s Seat, port drivers like me can finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief from the companies pushing down on the chest cavity and the hearts of drivers.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.

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