ILWU joins picketing truck drivers and Long Beach, LA ports

ILWU joins picketing truck drivers and Long Beach, LA ports
By Karen Robes Meeks, Long Beach Press Telegram
POSTED: 04/28/14, 7:32 AM PDT
LONG BEACH >> A federal arbitrator has ruled that truck drivers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles who planned to strike today and Tuesday must return to work immediately.

The drivers, who haul cargo in and out of the ports, were joined on the picket line this morning by workers represented by the International Longshore Warehouse Union who decided to honor the picket line in a show of solidarity. The demonstration has caused some truck traffic backups as workers spilled out into the street.

Port officials said that so far LBCT is the only terminal being picketed, but picketers say they expect to visit terminals and companies throughout the Harbor Area during the 48-hour strike.

The truckers have previously picketed at the trucking firms, and the group Justice For Port Truckers said it will now take the rally to the ports’ cargo terminals — even though the strike is not directed at the ports.

The truckers contend many of the companies wrongly classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees in order to pay them less and deny them protections that employees get under state and federal laws.

Industry experts estimate that only 10 percent of truckers are employed by companies, and in recent years, truckers who are classified as independent contractors have filed lawsuits and complaints with state and federal labor agencies to change their status.

Alex Cherin, a spokesman for the trucking companies, has said the recent actions were part of a Teamsters union plan to push the truckers to organize.

The California Trucking Association and the Harbor Trucking Association - which represents owner-operators, small for-hire fleets and national and international carriers - said in a statement today that truckers are within their rights “to freely and safely access marine terminals during today’s protests.”

“While we fundamentally disagree with the ongoing effort by special interest groups to prevent owner-operators from doing business at the ports, we respect individuals’ rights to peacefully exercise free speech,” according to the association.

TTSI, one of the trucking companies being picketed Monday, also issued a statement saying it is discouraged that “outside groups” are spending money to battle an issue that “a vast majority of harbor truck drivers have soundly rejected time and time again.

“There are literally hundreds of unfilled vacancies for company drivers throughout Southern California,” TTSI officials said in a statement. “If a driver wants to become an employee, rather than an independent contractor, he or she can do so. Unfortunately, this simple fact has been lost on groups who would rather see companies go out of business than continue to provide economic opportunities for thousands of drivers and their families.