- Reporters Desk
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
On May 19, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to move forward in developing a plan to support misclassified port truck workers. The plan focused on five recommended areas of action, presented in a report from the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.
The motion was advanced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, one-time head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“The issue of wage theft is one that we should all be concerned about,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Businesses that follow the law should not be undercut by those that lower their labor costs by cheating.”
Another active supporter was Supervisor Hilda Solis, former secretary of labor during President Barack Obama’s first term.
“I wholeheartedly support this,” Solis said.
Specifically, while noting that the county’s authority to act was limited by the powers granted to other jurisdictions, the report noted that action could be undertaken in each of these areas:
• To help prevent wage theft violations by conducting outreach and education workshops for workers and employees
• To provide information and referrals for those seeking to file wage theft claims;
• To “[p]artner with other government al agencies to share information and monitor the constantly evolving situation at the ports”
• To use its contracting power as a market participant by prohibiting county departments from contracting with companies that have wage theft judgments against them
• To support three pieces of state legislation that would encourage resolution of the ongoing industry-wide struggle: Senate Bill 588, which would facilitate collection of judgments by the Labor Commissioner Assembly Bill 621, which would provide an amnesty program for port trucking companies that enter into a consent decree with the labor commissioner prior to Jan. 1, 2017 to convert all their drivers to employee status; Assembly Bill 970, which would give the labor commissioner increased enforcement authority to issue citations for violations of local wage laws and other worker protections when encountered in the field—a power that already exists in hearing situations
Before voting, the supervisors heard public comments, including the testimony of three port drivers, who vividly illustrated the deceptive and illegal practices they were fighting against.
“Many weeks I make far less than the minimum wage,” said David Linares, a driver with Pac-9 for seven years. “Some weeks I even owe the company to work…In December 2014, the California DLSE [Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, also known as the Labor Commissioner’s Office] determined that I was one of four Pac-9 drivers misclassified as independent contractors. Pac-9 was ordered to pay us a total of $254,627 in back wages stolen from our paycheck, and penalties; 43 additional drivers have filed claims valued at more than $6.25 million. If every driver of the company were to file a claim, the company would face an additional liability of at least $12 million.”
Also testifying was Alfredo Reyes, a driver for XPO Logistics with 20 years of experience in port drayage.
“I first went on strike last November to protest misclassification, and since then, XPO has been retaliating against me, cutting my loads and I’ve been falling further and further into debt,” Reyes testified. “I am one of many drivers who have filed wage claims and lawsuits against the company for misclassification. We have filed lawsuits that amount to potential liabilities of more than $5 million. The California Superior Court has ruled that XPO owes an additional $2.2 million to just seven XPO drivers, making the potential liability in California alone of more than $160 million.”
Yet, Reyes went on to note, XPO clearly has the money.
“While we were on strike a few weeks ago, XPO announced they were spending $3.5 billion to buy a French company,” Reyes said. “Days later, they announced the purchase of another U.S. freight company, Bridge Terminal Transport, for $100 million. We believe that the money they’re spending buying other companies and passing on to shareholders is money they have stolen out of our pockets.”
The companies are lawless, Reyes said.
“These companies are knowingly breaking the law for profit and they are doing it right here in your county,” he concluded.
“Until recently, I drove for port trucking company QTS,” Felix Umana said. “Like Daniel and Alfredo, I was misclassified as an independent contractor, but unlike my brothers, the company I drove for from 2011 to 2015 took the cheating way out. They filed for bankruptcy and reopened under another name rather than pay us what they owed us.”
He went on explain the QTS was just one of several companies owned by Eric Yu.
“The same day QTS filed for bankruptcy, QTS management created a new company CSJJ express to which it then began shifting its work essentially starving QTS of the income needed to pay our claims,” Umana said. “Our attorney in the class action suit has filed in court to connect the assets of QTS with Mr. Yu’s other businesses, but with this you should see the kind of corrupt businesses we are dealing with at the ports.”
Rani Narula Woods, the deputy political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, also testified. She took note of the fact that the Los Angeles City Council was in session voting on a historic $15 per hour minimum wage hike.
“Just a few blocks down the way in city hall chambers, the most wide sweeping legislative step towards wage equality and wage theft protection in our nation is taking place,” Woods said. “As you know, Los Angeles is the wage theft capital of the country. In the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, this rings particularly true.”
The sharp contrast between Los Angeles’ historic vote and the plight of port truckers was also underscored by Julie Gutman-Dickinson, local counsel for the Teamsters Port Division, who also represents a number of port drivers.
“Ironically, at the same time that we work to raise the minimum wage to bring hard working members of our community out of poverty, there remain thousands of misclassified drivers working below the current minimum wage and some weeks even receiving negative paychecks,” Gutman-Dickinson said.
“[The companies responsible] have been like robber barons,” she said. “[They have been] getting away with breaking the law for profit, making money on the backs of taxpayers by avoiding high payroll taxes, costly payments for unemployment insurance, disability insurance, workers’ compensation.”
She concluded by saying that they appreciate all the five actions that this board is intending to move forward with. The report back for final action is expected in 60 days.