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Striking Port Truckers Protest Ends with Return to Work

June 06, 2016 by Clarissa Hawes

Truck drivers striking Southern California’s ports to protest what they say are unfair labor practices ended their job action after a noisy protest march through the port district Monday afternoon.

Even as hundreds of the port drivers and supporters marched to protest labor practices at the nation’s largest port complex Monday, others put down their picket signs and returned to work after a seven-day strike.

The strikers were protesting “unfair labor practices” allegedly utilized by some trucking companies who misclassify drivers as independent contractors and deny them employee benefits.

Protesters marched at the Port of Los Angeles from Intermodal Bridge Transport about a half-mile to California Cartage. The National Labor Relations Board has filed actions against both Wilmington, Calif.-companies.

Drivers for XPO Cartage, XPO Port Services and K&R Transportation also participated in the strike at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, as well as drivers who work for XPO Cartage’s facility in San Diego.

But earlier Monday, port drivers for Intermodal Bridge Transport crossed picket lines and returned to work. Some still participated in the protest march.

The decision by drivers to return to work was a financial one, “but the fight is not over,” said Barb Maynard, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters union.

“The drivers could only stay out for so long from a financial perspective, they still had to pay the companies for the leases on their trucks,” Maynard said. “At one point we had 20 picket lines going on simultaneously. That was a very big effort.”

The strike earned drivers a meeting with IBT officials, said Daniel Uaina, a three-year IBT port driver who returned to work earlier Monday. The company, however, made no concessions except to say that striking drivers would not face retaliation.

Gary Schubert, president of IBT, confirmed to Trucks.com that drivers would not be retaliated against. Instead, he said, “they will work more now.”

IBT, a national trucking firm owned by China-based COSCO Logistics, was hit with a National Labor Relations Board action in April over allegations that its Southern California port drivers were misclassified. A hearing is scheduled for July 18.

Schubert said the claims made by IBT drivers were unfounded. Drivers he has talked to really don’t want to be classified as employee drivers at all, but instead want to “be their own bosses,” he said.

“We allow drivers to make as much money or as little as possible, it’s all up to the driver about how much they want to work,” Schubert said. “There is a lot of flexibility in being an independent contractor.”

Uaina, however, said that after he pays between $1,500 to $2,000 in monthly fees to lease, fuel and insure the IBT truck, there’s not a lot of money left over for his family.

Striking workers have had a minimal impact on Port of Los Angeles operations, said Philip Sanfield, the port’s spokesman.

The misclassification battle waging between trucking companies and its drivers in Southern California is a “complicated situation and there is passion on both sides of the issue,” he said.

“The port is in the position where we need to bring both sides together and facilitate as best we can,” Sanfield told Trucks.com. “Where we go from here is not clear, but our goal is to bring the truckers and the trucking companies to the table and resolve their issues.”

Most of the striking workers focused their efforts at the California Cartage terminal, Sanfield said

The NLRB filed a complaint against the company in March, saying that workers were “threatened” and retaliated against for participating in union organizing efforts.

Sanfield said he wasn’t sure if trucks were leaving the trucking firm’s terminal on Monday. Carol Risher, executive assistant at Cal Cartage, declined to comment.

At the Port of Long Beach earlier Monday, the terminals remained open and business was being conducted pretty much as usual, said port spokesman Art Wong.

“We’ve had maybe a couple of dozen picketers spread out at three of our six container terminals,” Wong said.

Truckers have filed roughly 800 wage claims since 2011 due to employee misclassification, with more than $35 million awarded to drivers in more than 300 cases, according to the California Labor Commissioner’s office.

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