Port truck drivers protesting alleged wage theft at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Photo: Jason Ruiz
Port trucking companies operating at the complex shared by Los Angeles and Long Beach are facing legal action after years of allegations that they’ve misclassified workers and forced them into agreements as independent contractors that in some cases have left them owing money on pay day to the companies they work for.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit against three companies operating at the port complexes for allegedly exploiting drivers by forcing them to work as independent contractors instead of as regular employees. The three companies named in the suits are CMI Transportation, K & R Transportation and Cal Cartage Transportation.
The issue has been ongoing for years in Long Beach and Los Angeles and received national attention in 2017 after a series of stories published by the USA Today shed light on how the practice by some port truck companies has trapped workers in a cycle of poverty.
“We allege these port trucking companies take advantage of hundreds of hard-working drivers, requiring them to pay onerous expenses just to do their jobs, while leaving them without basic benefits and protections—all to boost the companies' profits,” Feuer in a statement earlier this week. “It's wrong and we're fighting to stop it.”
The suits state that because these companies exert near full control over their employees, including the days, times and amount of trips they make daily—the most significant factors of determining if an employee is an independent contractor under state law—they should be considered employees. The suits also state the companies have pushed the costs of operating the business onto drivers through truck leasing agreements.
Feuer’s suits seek to stop the practices and immediately remedy the violations.
Port truck drivers have brought these concerns to the Long Beach side of the port and to city hall over the past few years staging protests and filling the council chambers with hours of public testimony on their struggles but thus far the city has not taken action on the matter.
During Mayor Robert Garcia’s state of the city speech Tuesday night he referenced the issue, noting that wage theft at the port was one of the biggest economic concerns facing local workers in 2018. He said the current system at the port where some companies pay their drivers poverty wages is not sustainable.
The mayor called for the city council and the state legislature to work on creating a system that supports those companies that are “doing the right thing.” Whether or not Long Beach will follow in LA’s footsteps and pursue its own lawsuits against port trucking companies is unclear as Garcia’s office did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
Members of Congress introduced a bill in October named the “Port Drivers Bill of Rights Act of 2017” which sought to end wage theft by creating a task force to investigate bad actors. The bill would still have to be considered by a congressional committee before having the possibility of being taken up by the full House of Representatives.