Judge Sides With Port Truckers in Misclassification Fight

December 04, 2017 by Clarissa Hawes

Intermodal Bridge Transport violated federal law by engaging in unfair labor practices, including misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board ruled.

IBT, a subsidiary of Chinese-owned COSCO Group, was also ordered to cease and desist from interrogating, threatening or coercing employees at its Wilmington, Calif., terminal who support the forming of a union, Judge Dickie Montemayor said in his Nov. 28 decision.

IBT, which has approximately 95 drivers, now has 28 days to file an exception with the NLRB regarding Montemayor’s ruling, said Michael Manley, counsel for the Teamsters Port Division, which filed the complaint on behalf of the drivers in 2015.

“We think the decision is significant for misclassified drivers who are treated as independent contractors when they are not as part of an unlawful business model,” Manley told Trucks.com.

IBT declined to discuss the decision with Trucks.com.

The drivers, who worked at the nation’s largest port complex in Southern California, claimed that IBT violated the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA. The NLRB is an independent federal agency charged with enforcing the NLRA, which protects the rights of employees but not contractors.

The drivers claimed IBT controlled every aspect of their workdays but denied them employee benefits, including wages, overtime pay, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation by misclassifying them.

Montemayor order IBT to rescind in writing any company documents that “purport to classify employees as independent contractors” within 14 days of the order.

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.

Since 2011, California truckers have filed more than 800 wage claims alleging they have been misclassified as independent contractors and have been awarded about $40 million over 300 cases, according to the California Labor Commissioner’s office.

The National Employment Law Project says that California port carriers are liable for an estimated $850 million per year in wage and hour violations.

In the last four years there have been approximately 15 strikes at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach over the misclassification issue, pitting truck drivers against trucking companies.

Nearly 40 percent of all container cargo in the U.S. is moved through the port complex, which generates about $400 billion in economic activity each year. More than 15,000 truck drivers and warehouse employees work at the ports.

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