Monday, August 26, 2013

Port drivers fighting abusive employers all over the US

Green Fleet port truck drivers are ready to rally tomorrow
Tomorrow's large rally to support abused truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles comes at a time when port workers are rising up everywhere against injustice.

Hundreds are expected to gather at a Carson, Calif., warehouse tomorrow to stand with port truck drivers who are harassed and intimidated by Green Fleet Systems because they want to form a union.

The company has hired union busters to frighten workers away from union organizers, adding to an already toxic work environment. Green Fleet driver Ramon Guadamuz said he has been forced to work when he was sick with fever. "They didn’t even let me go to my son’s high school graduation even though I had requested that time off,” he said.

In Savannah, port truck drivers are speaking out against the theft of their wages. In Hazlet, N.J., port truck drivers at Australia-based Toll Group voted to join the Teamsters in June, and will meet soon to negotiate a contract. They were inspired by the port truck drivers in Los Angeles who joined the Teamsters last year. In January, those drivers ratified an amazing contract that gives them a $6-an-hour raise, a pension, affordable health care, job security and clean restrooms.

California port truck drivers are filing class action suits against wage theft. At least five trucking companies had charges filed against them for labor law violations by Jerry Brown, the current governor of California, in his last role as California attorney general.

As of last year, California is one of 14 states actively partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Misclassification Initiative to tamp down on worker abuse. Through this initiative, over $9.5 million has been collected in back wages for more than 11,400 workers.
Brothers Jose A. and Jose I. Estrada filed a lawsuit in May against Harbor Express Inc., one of the largest Southern California trucking companies, for wage theft and other basic violations after being classified as independent contractors.  Over 400 other port drivers could be affected by the outcome of the suit. Said Jose A. Estrada,
We filed this claim because we’re tired of being taken advantage of. They don't pay us a penny for the time we wait at the port.  I live paycheck to paycheck.
Instead of being paid by the hour like normal employees, they are given a small lump sum for their work, which is often lower than minimum wage.

Although the brothers have driven Harbor Express company trucks exclusively for years, Horizon Express refuses to acknowledge them as employees.  Jose I. Estrada was disabled after an accident at work and may never be able to work again.  As he was hired as an independent contractor, Harbor Express does not have to provide any worker compensation.

As a result of trucking deregulation in the 1980’s, an estimated 90 percent of port drivers at the Southern California ports are now illegally misclassified workers.