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Savannah Business Journal

Feb. 20 - New report on working conditions in port trucking released, part of efforts to reduce independent contractors

Category: Ports & Transportation

Savannah Business Journal Special Report

Feb. 20, 2014 – Unions and supporters of higher wages for Savannah area truckers, are calling attention to a report released Tuesday, “The Big Rig Overhaul,” a report released by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), and Change to Win Strategic Organizing Center (CtW). 

The report states that the U.S. port trucking industry is using an “illegal business model that pervades the U.S. port trucking industry – misclassification of drivers as “independent contractors.”

“This industry-wide scam has transformed once good, middle-class union jobs into ‘sweatshops on wheels,’ whereby so-called ‘independent’ drivers are victims of massive wage theft and systematically denied bedrock labor protections and workplace benefits,” according to the groups.

“More than 75,000 U.S. port truck drivers haul goods such as Skechers Shoes, Walmart televisions, and Home Depot lumber from U.S. seaports to railheads and retailers’ distribution centers. The research presented in The Big Rig Overhaul confirms with startling clarity that the “dire working conditions” of port truck drivers are directly related to their misclassification as “independent contractors.” The authors conservatively estimate that misclassified drivers are victims of wage theft “amounting to $5,072 per driver per month,” concluding that “total quantifiable costs of misclassification nationally – tax losses plus wage and hour violations – run to $1.4 billion annually with non-quantified costs likely exceeding the figure significantly,” the groups said in a joint press release.

In June 2031, several hundred Savannah port drivers, elected officials, environmental activists, clergy and community members gathered together for the ‘Stand Up For Savannah Community Forum’ to address the occupational hardship they and the community endures due to misclassification.

“Every single week we have to make tough decisions. Some decision, we shouldn’t have to make. We shouldn’t have to wonder if we’ll have enough money to put food in the refrigerator for the rest of the week,” said Savannah port truck driver Lewis Grant this week. Since the forum, drivers have successfully introduced a Senate resolution addressing misclassification of independent contractors, and port trucking companies dodging of taxes and employee benefits for drivers.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ Port Division, which has been leading the fight to classify port truck drivers as employees, states that the Teamsters have helped more than 100 drivers file individual claims for wage theft with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), and supported misclassified drivers at one company – Pac 9 Transportation – who engaged in an historic Unfair Labor Practice strike in November 2013, claiming harassment and intimidation related to their DLSE claims.

Two misclassified drivers who haul shoes for Skechers were unlawfully fired in January for filing claims for wage theft and have filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against their employer, according to the union.

“Port trucking companies that misclassify their drivers are facing huge liabilities for their illegal schemes and are desperate to reduce their exposure,” according to Fred Potter, International Vice President at Large and Director of the Port Division, International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “In desperation, they are harassing, intimidating, and even firing drivers who have filed claims with the government. The industry will be held accountable; the days of a lawless industry are over. "We look forward to the day when the port trucking companies that misclassify their drivers modernize their business practices to comply with local, state, and federal laws and respect the rights of their employees.”

The Teamsters believe that port trucking companies are currently liable for an estimated $850 million in wages per year in California alone. “Nationally, the total cost of lost tax revenue, compounded with violations of wage and hour laws soars to $1.4 billion annually,” according to the Teamsters.

The organizations are working for the passage of the Payroll Fraud Prevention Act, the Clean Ports Act of 2013, and the Fair Playing Field Act of 2012, believing the legislation will in part, remedy legal conditions of employee misclassification “and the resulting toll on working people in America.”

In November, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearing took place on Payroll Fraud: Targeting Bad Actors Hurting Workers and Businesses, sponsored by Senator sRobert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Tom Harkin (IA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). They introduced the Payroll Fraud Protection Act of 2013 (S. 1687), a bill that would “hold employers accountable” for independent contractor misclassification. The bill is now with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. 

The hearing occurred just days after the Department of Labor (DOL) sent its proposed Worker Classification Survey to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review and approval. The survey will provide the groundwork for the future “right-to-know” rule that would amend an employer’s recordkeeping requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide employees with greater information about their employment status. For more information on these bills, go to http://www.littler.com/dc-employment-law-update/senators-introduce-bill-targeting-independent-contractor-misclassification-#sthash.3lJNrLyF.dpuf

The Big Rig Overhaul report is available at www.JusticeforPortDrivers.org.

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