Gov. Brown signs Sen. Ricardo Lara's wage theft bill Sept. 22.

Port Truckers Gain Major Victory with Law Holding Retailers Accountable for Wage Theft

  • 10/04/2018
  • Paul Rosenberg

By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

A landmark bill authored by State Senator Ricardo Lara and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 22, may finally signal the end of systematic wage theft and related violations in the port trucking industry by making retailers jointly liable for port trucker wage theft violations, along with the trucking companies directly responsible.

“Gov. Brown’s signing of SB 1402 will allow port truck drivers to share in the benefits from California’s leading role in global trade,” said Lara, whose district includes the Port of Long Beach. “Retailers using their power to end exploitation and restore good jobs for workers at our ports will mean port truckers are left behind no more!”

SB 1402 goes into effect Jan. 1, but port truckers aren’t waiting until then, as they went out on a three-day strike against two of the worst offenders, XPO Logistics Inc. and NFI Industries. It was the 16th such strike mounted by the Teamsters union over the last five years. The last day strikers focused on immigration issues — specifically Trump’s revocation of Temporary Protective Status, which could leave many port drivers exposed for deportation. They joined with other labor and progressive groups for a demonstration at Wilmington Waterfront Park.

This comes on the heels of a Sept. 13 U.S. Department of Labor announcement that NFI-owned California Cartage must pay $3,573,074 to more than 1,400 employees at its Carson warehouse. It violated federal contract provisions by failing to pay prevailing wages, as well as health and welfare benefits.

“This company steals wages from drivers and warehouse workers every day,” said California Cartage driver Juan Lara.

“NFI/California Cartage has shown that they don’t care about the law,” said warehouse worker Jose Rodriguez. “We will continue to stand up and take action until Cal Cartage follows the law and respects our rights.”

The Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission approved a new lease agreement with California Cartage earlier this month, only to have the City Council intervene, with a unanimous vote to review the decision on Sept. 28.

Earlier this year, the City Council over-rode a Harbor Commission vote to to extend a Foreign Trade Zone Operating Agreement with California Cartage.

Truckers have been winning wage theft judgments for years, including more than $45 million due to 400 drivers. But with inadequate enforcement, the practice has continued unabated, putting law-abiding companies at a distinct disadvantage, while depriving government of revenue for workers’ compensation, Social Security and Medicare.

By making retailers jointly liable when they hire port trucking companies with unpaid final judgments, SB 1402 is expected to dramatically alter the incentive structure. It will push the vast majority of port trucking companies into compliance and putting to an end rampant wage theft and the misclassification of workers.

“For far too long, we have been filing claims with the State Labor Commissioner in order to fight our misclassification and to seek lost wages that the companies we work for have been pocketing,” said Domingo Avalos, an XPO driver. “We know the value of our hard work, and that our communities depend on the commerce we move. It’s high time companies stop turning a blind eye to the indignities we’ve endured for years. We’re hopeful that retailers will get off the sidelines and stand with us in this fight.”

SB 1402 was sponsored by the Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the California Labor Federation, with support from the Natural Resources Defense Council and numerous community and social justice groups, as well as the mayors of L.A., Long Beach and Oakland.

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