|LA port workers, still seeking justice|
A half-million people came to the 1963 March on Washington with a list of demands. One of those demands was “a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.” Since then, expanded federal employment regulations have improved the standard of living for some groups of workers, while deregulation in 1980 has hit port workers hard.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, originally passed in 1938, establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor regulations for workers in America.
In 1963 as well as today, some categories of workers are exempted from minimum wage laws and overtime, which has a dramatic impact on low-income families.
Domestic workers, a significant number of whom were African-American women, were often exploited because they were not guaranteed minimum wage or overtime pay.
Farm workers, government employees and workers at small retail stores were also exempt from the law.
Today all of these workers are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations -- an important achievement of the Civil Rights movement. However, many other groups of workers are still not covered. Many workers in computers services and transportation industries are exempt from overtime regulations. Tipped employees do get overtime protection, but have a reduced federal minimum wage that has not been adjusted for inflation in more than 20 years. The actual real wage of $2.13 per hour workers get from their employers has almost halved.
In 1963, most of the port truckers were members of the Teamsters. Their wages and benefits were comparable to those of autoworkers, steelworkers and over-the-road drivers. That's because trucking companies had to get a license from the Interstate Commerce Commission to haul freight. The ICC limited the number of trucks to keep the industry stable, which gave companies steady profits and their workers with decent wages and benefits. Then in 1980, port trucking was deregulated.
A 2009 Demos study reported:
New companies entered the industry, hiring their drivers non-union. Established companies faltered. Some went non-union; others went out of business. The firms that triumphed adopted a new business model. They sold all or most of their trucks to the drivers, then contracted with them on a per-load basis. The emerging independent contracting model meant trucking companies had few fixed costs, had no responsibility for workers’ compensation, social security, and unemployment insurance taxes, and were able to obtain drivers’ services without paying for health care costs or pension plans...In many, many cases these "contracted" workers are actually employees who were misclassified as independent contractors. Although drivers require great skill to transport goods from the docks to warehouses, most drivers live in poverty and work on average over 60 hours a week in terrible working conditions. Since independent contractors are not technically employees, companies have no incentive to reduce the amount of hours they work -- or even improve safety standards for the people who work for them, as workers are often required to supply their own trucks.
This abuse has become so rampant that the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor have joined forces with 14 states to stamp out employer abuse through the Misclassification Initiative. Through this project, millions of dollars in back wages have been reclaimed for workers.
The nation's most active port is at Los Angeles/Long Beach. On Tuesday, port workers will hold a rally for justice, almost 50 years to the day after the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. Find out more about the rally here.