Truck­ers strike at sea­port com­plex

The China Post - - WORLD BUSI­NESS - BY CHRISTO­PHER WE­BER

Truck drivers who haul goods from docks at the na­tion’s busiest sea­port com­plex walked off the job Mon­day in a dis­pute over their earn­ings and em­ploy­ment sta­tus, but port of­fi­cials said the im­pact on in­ter­na­tional com­merce ap­peared to be min­i­mal.

The ports of Los An­ge­les and Long Beach are the pri­mary West Coast gate­way for hundreds of bil­lions of U.S. dol­lars of an­nual trade, much of it with Asia.

Ear­lier this year, tough con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing dock­work­ers who move con­tain­ers on and off ocean­go­ing ships nearly closed the twin ports, along with more than two dozen oth­ers on the West Coast.

The on­go­ing dis­pute be­tween truck­ers and truck­ing com­pa­nies that resur­faced Mon­day was nowhere near as dis­rup­tive. Spokes­men for both ports said cargo con­tain­ers were mov­ing freely de­spite scat­tered picket lines.

“It re­ally hasn’t im­peded

the flow of cargo,” Port of Los An­ge­les spokesman Phillip San­field said.

About 16,000 truck­ers work the two ports, and sev­eral hun­dred from four com­pa­nies were tak­ing part of the job ac­tion, Team­sters union spokes­woman Barb May­nard said.

Be­tween 400 and 500 drivers work for the four com­pa­nies that were tar­geted, but an ex­act count of how many walked off was dif­fi­cult be­cause drivers had been join­ing lines through­out the day, May­nard said.

The Team­sters union has been try­ing to or­ga­nize drivers at the ports, say­ing their em­ploy­ers are en­gaged in what May­nard called “per­sis­tent wage theft” be­cause drivers are clas­si­fied not as em­ploy­ees but as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors who must pay their own ex­penses. That can mean they take home less than min­i­mum wage, May­nard said.

A main goal of the job ac­tion is to get com­pa­nies to clas­sify drivers as em­ploy­ees, not con­trac­tors.

Amador Rojas, a driver with Pacific 9 Trans­porta­tion, said he joined the strike be­cause the com­pany re­fuses to pay for truck main­te­nance.

“It’s one of the is­sues that is caus­ing dis­tress, not only for us, but for our fam­i­lies as well,” Rojas said through a trans­la­tor.

Calls seek­ing comment from of­fi­cials with Pacific 9 and the other com­pa­nies — Pacer Cartage, Har­bor Rail Trans­port and In­ter­modal Bridge Trans­port — were not re­turned.

Com­pa­nies have said the un­happy truck­ers are a vo­cal mi­nor­ity, and a la­bor stop­page would be dis­as­trous while the ports con­tinue to re­cover from cargo back­logs re­lated to the con­tract dis­pute be­tween dock­work­ers and their em­ploy­ers.

Most truck­ers “pre­fer to re­main in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors be­cause they know they have a greater op­por­tu­nity to make a de­cent in­come, and they have greater flex­i­bil­ity over the hours in which they work,” said We­ston LaBar, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Har­bor Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents truck­ing com­pa­nies.

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