Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teamsters lift port drivers out of poverty

And this is how we do it: With a contract.

Last year, the Teamsters struggled to organize 65 drivers who work for Australia-based Toll Holdings at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach. The company was paying the drivers poverty-level wages while the top executive took home $2.5 million.

Jose Ortega, for example, is a 36-year-old single father who earned  $23,773 from Toll in 2011 -- just above the poverty line.

On Jan. 10, Toll Teamsters ratified their first contract. Brother Ortega's earnings doubled.

The Teamsters' contract propelled the Toll drivers into the middle class. It just goes to show that a union contract is the best anti-poverty program there is.

Consider this: A typical non-unionized port driver earns about $9.41 an hour. The Toll drivers now earn about $19 an hour, plus overtime.

Before the Toll contract, only eleven drivers were active in the company’s 401(k) plan. With the contract, Toll drivers will have a Teamsters retirement account through the Teamsters Western Conference Pension Trust.

Non-union port drivers face a hurdle that the Toll drivers didn't have to jump: they're misclassified as "independent contractors." This absolves the employer of responsibility toward them and the trucks and consigns them to poverty. The typical independent port driver encounters:
  • No W-2 employment and benefits
  • No workers’ compensation protection.
  • No disability insurance.
  • No Social Security.
  • No workplace health and safety protections.
  • No right to form a union.
  • Work an average of 59 hours per week with no overtime pay.
  • Constant retaliation and abuse.
  • No lunch or rest breaks.
  • Dangerous work conditions.
  • Chronic wage theft. 
  • Fees for parking and truck wash.
  • Fees for liability insurance.
  • Fees for truck rental and fuel. 
  • Maintenance and vehicle registration fees. 
Here's how the Toll drivers are treated now:
  • They got an instant hourly gain of $6.28 for the day shift and $6.53 for the night shift.
  • Every driver is enrolled in the Teamster pension plan.
  • They get overtime after 40 hours worked at a time-and-a-half rate of $28.
  • They got an $800 bonus for signing the contract.
  • They have full family vision, dental and medical coverage, 95 percent of which is paid for by the employee.
  • They get paid sick days, holidays and vacation time. 
  • They're guaranteed an annual raise. 
  • They have a fair grievance procedure for discipline. 
Working union sure does mean living better.