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

Legislative efforts to combat wage theft at the California port complexes continued this week as a bill targeting those companies who contract work to trucking companies found in violation of not paying its drivers fair wages was introduced by State Senator Ricardo Lara.

SB-1402, titled the “Dignity in the Driver’s Seat” bill, would make retailers jointly liable for abuses of port truck drivers if they’re found to have hired a trucking company that is not paying fair wages, has unpaid final judgments due to a wage theft suit, imposes unlawful expenses on its employees and those who misclassify its workers as independent contractors.

The bill also seeks to create a list of past offenders for which retailers would be held liable for future claims against those companies if they enter into contracts with them. The bill was co-authored by State Senator Steven Bradford (Gardena) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (San Diego).

The bill has gained the support of port city mayors including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf. Lara said the state of port truck drivers can be improved if retailers become part of the fight to enforce wage theft.

“Port truckers are driving the global economy and delivering for the biggest brands but they can barely afford to buy clothes for their families,” Lara said. “These used to be good jobs, and they can be good jobs again if retailers join us in improving labor conditions here in California and putting dignity back in the driver’s seat.”

Lara’s district includes Long Beach which shares a port complex with the City of Los Angeles that makes up the largest port property in the United States.

Justice For Port Truck Drivers, a coalition of unions, drivers and advocates that have already successfully lobbied the United States Congress to introduce legislation to address wage theft at the national level, expressed support for Lara’s bill.

Long Beach port truck drivers move a massive amount of cargo for a large swath of major retailers including bix-box giants like Costco, Walmart, Amazon and Home Depot. Randy Cammack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42 said that putting part of the onus on retailers to shore up wage disputes is the first step toward eliminating wage theft.

“Until the major retailers like Amazon, Sony, and Home Depot are held jointly liable for the unconscionable and systemic lawbreaking by their harbor trucking contractors, we will not be able to solve the problem of having thousands of immigrant drivers being treated as ‘indentured servants’ by their employers here at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” Cammack said. “With the bold leadership of Senator Ricardo Lara, this will change, paving the way for port trucker jobs to become good jobs.”

Local efforts to address the issue have sped up in the past year. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit against three trucking companies operating at the joint port complex for misclassifying its drivers and charging them fees to drive the trucks they need to work.

Los Angeles Files Lawsuits Against Port Trucking Companies to Stop Wage Theft, Misclassification

In February, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to back future and existing legislation targeting the issue and to instruct its city attorney to explore potential options for regulatory enforcement. At that meeting Garcia said the system needed to be fixed to ensure the dignity of a living wage.

“While we have some great trucking companies working at the ports, we need to fix our system to make sure all truckers are treated fairly,” Garcia said. “We need to raise standards, and wages, in the industry while increasing efficiency to make sure our ports continue to be engines of growth.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.