Long Beach, which controls half of Southern California’s giant port complex, is stepping into the debate about how port truck drivers are paid at the nation’s largest entry point for overseas freight.
It is joining Los Angeles in looking for ways to sanction motor carriers the two cities believe are underpaying port truckers by misclassifying them as independent contractors rather than employees. Labor groups and some drivers claim that carriers misclassifying truckers denies them the benefits and wages owed to full-time employees.
“We have some great, large and independent trucking firms that are doing a good job moving goods and supporting workers, but we also have many trucking companies that are quite frankly taking advantage of their workers,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said at a City Council meeting Tuesday.
Since the state of California made employee misclassification illegal in 2011, California port truckers have filed 935 wage claims alleging misclassification. Drivers have been awarded over $46 million in about 400 of those cases, according to the California labor commissioner’s office.
Garcia outlined the economic benefits of the port complex and said dealing with misclassification is “very important to the success of our port here in Long Beach as well as our port complex.” He called the port’s trucking system “the one, major unresolved issue…that needs to be fixed.”
Over 30 percent of all container cargo in the U.S. goes through the California port complex. It generates more than 180,000 jobs, officials said.
Garcia prioritized the issue in speech in early January, and the City Council unanimously approved the recommendations he presented on Tuesday.
That motion included adding language about the issue in the city’s state and federal legislative agendas. Additionally, the City Council requested that the city attorney work with the California labor commissioner and state attorney general to look into the city’s options to regulate the misclassifying trucking companies. It directed the city’s harbor and tidelands committee and Long Beach Harbor Commission to hold hearings on the issue.
The motion runs parallel to that of the Los Angeles City Council in December. Councilmember Lena Gonzalez, who chairs the harbor and tidewater committee and supported the recommendations, said she is working on the issue with Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who spearheaded the motion in Los Angeles.
Gonzalez also has met with the Teamsters, who applauded Long Beach’s “bold action to end law-breaking at the ports,” said Fred Potter, director of the Teamsters’ port division after the council meeting.
Ninety percent of port drivers choose to be independent contractors, said Weston LaBar, chief executive of the Harbor Trucking Association. He said he hopes that any efforts by the cities to regulate carriers and employment at the port do not jeopardize that independent contractor model.
“Hopefully, [the hearing] process will be handled in a fair and balanced manner that invites industry to the table and finally shows that our industry provides a great opportunity for both company and independent contractor drivers,” LaBar said.