Photos by Victor Cuevas
On Monday and Tuesday, Change-to-Win, a Teamsters-backed coalition, took to the Port of Long Beach to flag down truckers on their way to drop off loads and inform them of an assembly for the misclassification of port drivers.
Standing in bright orange vests outside of the Evergreen Container Terminal at the intersection of Tuna and Terminal Island Way, coalition members handed out newsletters to stopped truckers—who are considered independent contractors—and informed them of a meeting happening on September 14 that will discuss how their rights are being infringed upon. The organizers were also inviting the truckers to workshops put on by the Department of Labor and Cal/OSHA.
“The meeting is going to be key,” said Coral Itzcalli, the spokesperson for Change-To- Win. “We don’t need to tell [the drivers] they’re misclassified. They know it. But what do you do about it?”
Itzcalli and thirty additional organizers, including current teamsters and members of Good Jobs LA, are trying to bring attention to the problem of misclassification, alleging that companies like Shippers Transport Express, Inc. are asking truckers to work as independent contractors, seducing drivers to take huge financial risks with the allure of owning their own business and a way to buy their own truck one day in the future.
But according to Itzcalli, in order to become an independent contractor, the individual truckers have to buy their own trucks and pay the taxes on their truck and the exorbitant price for gasoline. Plus, the truckers receive no health or pension benefits and the companies take the deductions for the trucks right out of the independent contractors’ paycheck, leaving the drivers with no room to complain.
“That’s a lot of money out of someone’s pay check,” Itzcalli said. “So most of the time these drivers, year after year, week after week, after seeing these deductions, think this is just broken, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s really about us bringing hope and letting truckers know that someone is finally listening.”
Someone else is listening to the truckers’ problem—Hilda L. Solis, the U.S. Secretary of Labor.
On August 13th in Oakland, California, the attorneys for Solis filed a complaint for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act against Shippers. This news is exciting to organizers like Itzcalli, because she believes it will help start momentum for a similar case in Los Angeles County.
“I would bring in, like, 70 grand, but with all the expenses it would come out to 30,000,” said Carlos Santamaria, a former misclassified driver who is now an organizer. “I have to pay taxes on everything. And when you’re an owner-operator, you have to put that money in when you start the week, and you never know if you’re going to make that money back.”
Itzcalli and Santamaria estimate that out of the 10,000 truck drivers who come into the port, 90% are misclassified.
“Success means these drivers [start] standing and demanding to be recognized as a voice,” Itzcalli said.
However, because labor unions aren’t allowed to organize independent contractors—though they are allowed to organize employees—Itzcalli has issue with the fact that the independent contractors have no unified voice. This is why Change-To-Win is attempting to bring the drivers together to let them know about their rights.
“What I’ve been telling the drivers is we’ve go to go Egypt style,” Santamaria said over the sounds of trucks breaking and squeaking. “The only way we know how to overthrow the system is by doing an uprising…The uprising is having all these drivers lose their fear and push the government agencies to bring change and take on their bosses by doing collective actions.”
In two days, the organizers received contact information and support from over 500 drivers. As September 14th approaches, the organizers will send these truckers the location for the meeting.
“We know what the companies are doing is illegal,” Itzacalli said. “We know they’re misclassified. The drivers have the proof in their check stubs and taxes.”
Free news isn’t cheap.
We believe that everyone should have access to important local news, for free.
However, it costs money to keep a local news organization like this one—independently owned and operated here in Long Beach, without the backing of any national corporation—alive.
If independent local news is important to you, please consider supporting us with a monthly or one-time contribution. Read more.