Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Port truck driver: Workers' rights should be civil rights

Alex Paz urges other port drivers to join the fight.
Shouldn't federal law protect people for trying to organize -- just as it protects them from discrimination because of their race, religion, sex or national origin? 

Alex Paz thinks so. He's a port truck driver at LA/Long Beach who got fired for complaining that he was misclassified as an independent contractor. 

Today Alex joined U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Keith Ellison at a Capitol Hill news conference. The two congressmen announced they filed a bill to make labor organizing a civil right.

Their bill would change the National Labor Relations Act so it protects workers who ask for better wages or working conditions. George Zornick at The Nation explains:
The Ellison-Lewis legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to include protections found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include labor organizing as a fundamental right. That would give workers a broader range of legal options if they feel discriminated against for trying to form a union. 
Currently, their only redress is through a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board—an important process, but one that workers and labor analysts frequently criticize as both too slow and often too lenient on offending employers. 
If the NLRA were amended, however, after 180 days a worker could take his or her labor complaint from the NLRB to a federal court. This is how the law works now for civil rights complaints, which gives workers the option, after 180 days, to step outside the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission process. 
Then, workers would have sole discretion on whether to push a complaint, as opposed to relying on a decision by the NLRB on whether to forge ahead. Workers could also move the process along much faster than the NLRB handles complaints, which can often take years.

Alex with Civil Rights icon John Lewis today.
Alex Paz's story shows why workers' rights should be more than the right to hope they don't get fired. He drove for TTSI in Rancho Dominguez, Calif. The truck he drove belonged to TTSI and it was registered to TTSI, but Alex had to pay for registering it. He also had to pay for insurance, fees, fuel, maintenance and tires. His costs amounted to $3,500 a month, leaving him with minimum wage for his work.

TTSI got away with it by calling him an independent contractor. "There was nothing independent in what I do," Alex said.

In June 2013, Alex complained to the California Labor Commissioner that TTSI misclassified him to avoid paying taxes and treating him as an employee. TTSI then sued him. He was served with papers on Christmas Eve. Alex then led the strike in April against Port of LA/Long Beach employers, including TTSI. In May, the Labor Commission held a hearing on his complaint. The company president showed up. Alex was fired four days after telling labor commissioners about the TTSI's scam.

"These companies are getting out of control," he said. "They used ruthless tactics to scare us, but we're not going to back down. I urge other port drivers to join us. Come along and join us in the fight."

If the Ellison-Lewis bill becomes law, the port drivers will have a powerful new tool in their arsenal.