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Vol. 78/No. 19      May 19, 2014

(front page)
Calif. port drivers fight for union:
We’re workers, not ‘contractors’
Militant/Frank Forrestal
Truck drivers picket near Port of Los Angeles April 28.
WILMINGTON, Calif. — At a “T” on the road in the midst of heavy traffic, a couple dozen truck drivers from Total Transportation Services, Inc. picketed for 48 hours April 28-29, delaying the movement of goods out of the company’s facility at the Port of Los Angeles.

They are demanding that they be reclassified as hourly wage workers, instead of being considered as so-called independent contractors.

They blocked trucks and other traffic for up to five minutes or more at a time before letting a few trucks pass from each of three directions. A few drivers unsuccessfully tried to ram through the picket lines, which were part of a coordinated action by workers at Green Fleet Systems, Pacific 9 Transportation and Total Transportation Services, backed by Teamsters union Local 848.

Workers from the three companies also set up picket lines at entrances to the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union stayed off the job in solidarity for four hours on April 28 at the Long Beach port, before returning to work under an arbitrator’s order.

Teamsters at the port of Savannah, Georgia, organized a similar 48-hour action.

When treated as ”independent contractors” the drivers’ take-home pay is cut because the company shifts costs for insurance, diesel fuel and some maintenance onto their backs. They are robbed of overtime pay and work breaks, and the trucking bosses say they are prohibited from joining unions. Drivers face victimization when they try.

The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that Pacific 9 must inform drivers that they can join unions after union supporters there filed complaints that they faced company intimidation and threats of firing.

“We are fighting for our rights,” Alejandro Paz, a driver with Total Transportation Services, told the Militant on the picket line. “The company is guilty of unfair labor practices. They use intimidation. And they have lowered the number of loads we carry.”

Paz recently filed a complaint with the California division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over conditions at Total Transportation Services. “It’s really bad in the TTSI truck yard where I work,” he told the Long Beach Press Telegram. “The portable toilets are disgusting and they rarely even give us toilet paper. I get sick from all the dust we breathe in the yard, and there is trash in the truck the company leases me, and they charge me to maintain it. I just want to work in a safe place and that is my right under Cal/OSHA.”

“I have been here for three years,” said Yesene Rivas at the picket line. “At first it was good. Since a year ago it has been no good. Sometimes we used to get seven loads, now sometimes it can be as few as one or two a day.”

Total Transportation Services declined requests for comment by the Militant.

“During this 48 hours, the truck drivers definitely rocked the companies’ chair,” said Santos Castaneda, a young organizer for Teamsters Local 848, who led the picketing. “The drivers were not only able to send a message to the company but we showed how powerful we are when we come together and fight. These drivers are not only fighting for themselves but for their families and all the port truck drivers. They are making their voices heard. There will be no more silence.”
Related articles:
Postal workers protest plans to cut jobs, undermine union
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