Truckers have asked the National Labor Relations Board to intervene in a string of cases in which the drivers say they have become victims of workplace retaliation, including termination, as they pushed for collective bargaining and better working conditions.
The truck drivers allege that employers use tactics such as withholding jobs or triggering calculated dispatch delays that leave truckers waiting for hours at loading docks for work. The drivers claim the lack of loads given to them are not enough loads necessary to make a living or pay expenses owed on leased trucks.
The NLRB, an independent federal agency charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of private-sector employees, has interceded in some of the cases.
Last month, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Benjamin W. Green ordered Dawn Trucking of Saint Albans, N.Y., to reinstate and provide back pay to six truck drivers who were fired one day after voting to unionize in 2015.
The judge ruled that dump truck company owner Henry Burey stopped assigning work to the drivers after they voted 6-0 to join a union. Burey later contacted the drivers about rehiring them as long as they rejected the union, which they refused, according to the NLRB judge’s ruling.
In another case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued a judgment on Jan. 26 against Atlantic Northeast Transport Inc. of Kearny, N.J., ordering the intermodal company to follow the NLRB’s order to reinstate and provide back pay to a driver who was retaliated against for engaging in protected union activity.
The NLRB told the company to stop intimidating employees with the threat of termination dependent on whether they cease to engage in protected activities such as filing a lawsuit for the purpose of employees’ mutual aid and protection. The agency also told the company to stop interfering with, restraining or coercing employees from exercising their rights guaranteed by the NLRA.
The NLRB also has scheduled a hearing on April 3 to review a consolidated case against XPO Cartage Inc.
Humberto Canales and other XPO Cartage drivers alleged they were retaliated against for engaging in protected union activities and that the company made coercive statements and changed the drivers’ terms and conditions of employment after they signed a petition to support joining a union. The drivers then filed a complaint with the NLRB. The agency found merit in the case and has allowed the complaint to move forward.
“I ended up leaving XPO because of retaliation,” Canales told Trucks.com.
Canales said he was months away from paying off his truck through XPO’s lease-purchase program when he was forced to turn over the keys in May 2016. He claimed he couldn’t get enough work from the XPO Logistics division to meet his payments.
On Feb. 3, Canales, an intermodal driver, filed a second NLRB complaint against XPO Cartage claiming he was not rehired by the company because of his union activities. The NLRB has not made a determination in this case on whether it will move forward.
A similar consolidated case has also been filed against XPO Port Services Inc., another XPO Logistics division.
The NLRB alleges in its July 26, 2016, complaint that Fidel Gonzalez was suspended by XPO management after being interrogated by an XPO employee about the driver’s “union and protected concerted activity.”
The NLRB complaint also alleges that Gonzalez and other truck drivers were threatened with termination in retaliation for engaging in union and protected concerted activity in which employees are allowed to act together to try and improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union.
The NLRB complaint alleges that XPO also engaged in surveillance by photographing and recording drivers engaged in union activities.
A trial date in that case is set for July 24.
XPO declined to discuss the cases with Trucks.com.
However, in a recent interview with The Loadstar, a logistics industry news site, XPO Logistics Chief Executive Bradly Jacobs said he isn’t against unions. He said he doesn’t like working with the Teamsters union, which has been working to organize XPO drivers.
“I don’t believe in the Teamsters. That’s not about unions — we work with unions across Europe and I never have these sort of problems there. There are work councils in Europe and the whole interaction is done respectfully and on the basis of cooperation,” Jacobs told The Loadstar. “The Teamsters are completely out of control. I don’t see the value they bring to members.”
Dawn Trucking and Atlantic Northeast Transport Inc. did not respond to Trucks.com’s phone or email requests for comment.
In recent years, the NLRB has been sympathetic to drivers in retaliation claims associated with unfair labor practices, especially regarding the issue of misclassification of drivers as independent contractors. Contractors are not provided employee protections under the National Labor Relations Act.
Last July, the NLRB issued a consolidated complaint against Intermodal Bridge Transport, a subsidiary of Chinese-owned COSCO Group, accusing the company of “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed” to form a union, according to the NLBR’s complaint.
The complaint alleges that the classification of drivers as independent contractors is a violation of the federal labor law because it interferes with the workers’ rights under Section 7 of the NLRA to organize and collectively bargain. IBT had denied the charges.
The trial in the IBT case lasted six weeks and concluded on Dec. 7. A ruling is expected in April.
Retaliation is a powerful tool companies use to silence drivers and keep them from organizing or to force them to leave for engaging in union activity, said Julie Gutman Dickinson, a labor attorney at the Bush Gottlieb law firm.
“This is a pervasive problem in the trucking industry,” Gutman Dickinson told Trucks.com. “The carriers instill fear that if [drivers] support the union, they will be terminated.”
Oftentimes, owners threaten to close the company rather than have union representation, she said.
Another tactic companies use to prevent drivers from organizing is a promise to pay them benefits as long as they vote no to join a union, Gutman Dickinson said.