Monday, July 14, 2014

LA/LB port drivers back at work for 'cooling off' period

Striking port truckers picket last week
Striking port truck drivers are back at work as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledges to investigate abuse of workers and theft of their wages. The drivers are paid extremely low wages, sometimes even receiving negative paychecks in which they owe their employer money.

The five-day strike was supported by the Teamsters and the broader labor movement, which has for several years been staging short, sudden strikes at Walmart stores, fast-food restaurants, warehouses, government-contracted businesses and other retailers. The immediate aim is to raise wages and allow workers to form unions and bargain collectively. The end game is to restore the U.S. middle class by destroying the low-wage economy.

The Los Angeles Times reported,
More than a 120 striking truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach voted to return to work, ending a five-day protest that briefly halted cargo flows at the ports, organizers said. 
The drivers decided late Friday to end their job action against three firms they accuse of widespread workplace violations. The decision came after the companies promised to allow all drivers back to work without retaliation and a request from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for a “cooling-off period," organizers said. 
In a statement, the mayor said that the city held meetings with both sides and that the outcome will allow Los Angeles' harbor commission time to investigate the "serious allegations regarding worker safety, poor working conditions and unfair labor practices.”
Richard Kitsch at the Roosevelt Institute called the strike a David and Goliath story. In the Huffington Post, he wrote,
They are not alone; 49,000 port truck drivers around the country work long hours at low pay with no benefits or basic worker protections like unemployment insurance or workers compensation, because the industry misclassifies them as independent contractors. The drivers' courageous action is one more facet of a surging labor and community movement, which is starting to take on the captains of America's low-wage economy.
Kirsch explains the lie that allows carriers to exploit workers:
The drivers weren't really independent truck drivers, with their own rigs. They still worked for one distribution company, which totally controlled everything about their work - their hours, their shipments, the rates they were paid. The company supplied the trucks they drove. But by insisting the drivers accept the new arrangement if they wanted to work, the companies avoided paying payroll taxes, workers compensation, and unemployment benefits, let alone health or retirement benefits. The drivers were forced to pay to lease, fuel and maintain the trucks out of their own paychecks. 
The result of this scam has been high profits for the companies, lower wages and no workplace protections for the drivers, plus big losses to the social insurance funds. This arrangement put employers who complied with the law by continuing to treat their workers as employees at a competitive disadvantage. 
He notes the port drivers plight is emblematic of the forces that are crushing the middle class in America. But there's reason to hope for better days:
The strike in Southern California carries with it all the elements and power of the new movement of low-wage workers and their allies to create a good jobs economy. The foundation of the strategy is the willingness of low-wages workers to risk their jobs to fight back. The strategy is driven by strategic, legal, and financial assistance supplied by labor unions, partnerships with community groups, and public campaigns against big brand names.