By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
On Oct. 26, after years of organizing, port truck drivers misclassified as “independent owner-operators” began their eighth “unfair labor practice” strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The strike drew in-person support from Teamsters president James P. Hoffa and two of the union’s vice presidents, while a pair of new developments signaled the further growth of the ongoing struggle.
First, truckers at one company became the first misclassified workers ever to simultaneously demand their rights as employees and their right to join a union.
Second, the Teamsters announced a wider escalation of organizing throughout the supply chain. Their new partnership with the Warehouse Workers Resource Center seeks to bring warehouse workers and truckers together and support Cal Cartage warehouse workers who went on strike Oct 28.
Hoffa was joined by Fred Potter, head of the Teamsters Port Division, and Ron Herrera, vice president of the Western Region and executive director of the National Hispanic Caucus.
“I bring you the pledge of support from 1.4 million brothers and sisters who support you here today,” Hoffa said at a Oct. 27 morning press conference at International Transportation Service Inc. marine terminal in Long Beach. “The whole country supports you. We will be here until this fight ends. We are just beginning.”
Hoffa credited Potter’s leadership for organizing hundreds of port drivers.
“But you see that sign there: ‘Justice for Port Drivers’?” Hoffa asked. “We’re just getting started. And we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Potter said the strike that had just begun is an example of that work.
“This morning a majority of misclassified so-called ‘independent contractors’ at Intermodal Bridge Transport, ironically known as the IBT [the same initials as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters], sent a demand to their employer, to be represented as employees and to be represented by the Teamsters Union,” he said. “On receiving no word back from the company, they took their picket signs and went on strike.They demanded a dignified and safe work environment. Something that everybody should have.”
Another example is the new partnership with warehouse workers, said Hoffa, elaborating in a press release.
“Yesterday, I visited with supply chain workers who haul imports and exports to and from the docks at our nation’s largest port, and with the warehouse workers who unpack and reload items onto trucks destined for major retailers like Amazon and Walmart,” Hoffa said. “Every one of these egregiously exploited workers shared stories of their inhumane working conditions and their determination to fight back, not just for themselves but for all of their supply chain co-workers.”
At the press conference Potter cited the historic nature of the port truckers’ two-pronged objectives—securing their rights as employees and the right to join a union—and asserted that they represent growing labor activism.
“They join drivers from XPO Logistics, who went on strike this week, and drivers from Pacific 9 Transport, who’ve been on strike eight times now and who have been on strike for the past 14 days,” said Potter.
“These drivers are on the front lines of the fight in America to end wage theft. They are leading the way for Americans, including janitors, ex-con workers, entertainment workers, homecare workers, construction workers, and many many more. It’s an embarrassment in this country that companies will put the whole burden of their company on the backs of workers who have no say in what they’re paid and what their working conditions are. So we have to change that.”
As for warehouse workers, Potter connected their struggles in a press statement.
“Wage theft isn’t just about misclassification,” he said. “It’s about workers who are supposed be paid a living wage—and they’re not.
“And that is happening right here on port property, at the Cal Cartage warehouse, where the company is violating the city’s living wage ordinance. We support these workers and pledge to stand with them throughout their fight to help them secure dignity, respect and fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.”
Anthony Vallecillo, a Cal Cartage warehouse worker, gave an inside view of what’s going on.
“We came together about a year ago to improve our conditions at the warehouse,” Vallecillo said. “I got involved because I was tired of struggling to provide for my son, my family, and my wife.
“Most of us are working through a staffing agency, and I have been there for about three years, and I’m still a temp. Last December we filed a lawsuit. We believe that we should be paid living the city living wage, because the warehouse sits on city property.”
No one’s been fighting longer than the Pac-9 truckers—two-and-a-half years now.
“But before I could only dream that one day we would unite and we would fight,” Amador Rojas said at the press conference.
Now he’s confident.
“When we unite, and we fight we win,” Rojas said. “We will not stop until Pac-9, as a company, submits to the law, to the demand that they return the wages that they be illegally deducted from our paychecks.
Humberto Canales has worked for XPO Logistics for seven years. “They’ve always treated us without dignity, stealing our wages, misclassifying us. This is our third strike against them.
“We want the future for our families better, dignified, and to have the respect for the newer generation that will come in this world. I have a small son, six-month and he was born as they say in the midst of the strike, and a lot of my brothers and sisters were Teamsters, and I don’t want him to grow up seeing that we’re being pushed around by these exploitative companies. And this time we’re going to go all the way until we win.”
The faith community was represented at the press conference by Rev. William Smart, who heads the Southern California chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’m here because Dr. King gave his life in fighting for sanitation workers in Memphis Tenn., and was gunned down there in the midst of fighting for workers.” Smart explained. “Dr. King understood something that, all of us, [including] President Hoffa, and that is America does not treat its workers right. America does not honor the work we put in. Right now, the economy is improving but workers are still at a low. Hotels are coming back but the workers are still low. [Changes] are taking place in the trucking industry, but they refuse to recognize us…. So we’re here following a long tradition in the labor movement…we have to strike to get respect. We have to protest for our families to be fed. And we have to picket in order for us to get benefits. So, in the tradition of the Black church, let me tell you this: ‘Keep on fighting! Keep on fighting!’”
At the end of his remarks, Hoffa emphasized that they were putting four companies on strike that day.
“We’re putting four companies on strike today, and tomorrow,” he said. “We’re just beginning this battle. We aren’t going away. We’re going to be here again. We’ll be here tomorrow. We’ll be here next week. We’ll be here the week after that. The Teamsters are going to win. We’re going to win.”