Unloading a container of bananas at the Port of San Diego. Port photo via Wikimedia Commons
Unloading a container of bananas at the Port of San Diego. Port photo via Wikimedia Commons

Port truck drivers who spent four days walking picket lines in Otay Mesa returned to work Friday along with some of their counterparts at two drayage firms in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The short-haul firms targeted by picketers since Monday were: Pacer Cartage, with offices in San Diego and Commerce; Pacific 9 Transportation, with offices in Carson and Long Beach; Harbor Rail Transport, with an office in Rancho Dominguez; and Intermodal Bridge Transport, with an office in Long Beach.

This morning, drivers for Pacer Cartage, Intermodal Bridge Transport and Harbor Rail Transport returned to work, although what prompted the decision was not immediately announced.

“I am very proud of what we have accomplished,” Intermodal Bridge Transport driver Hector Flores said. “For too long, we have been treated like the orphans of the port, disrespected by the boss and voiceless at work. Now we have earned the respect of the marine terminal operators and the world. We won’t back down until the boss respects us as well.”

Drivers working at the ports in San Diego, Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike in an effort to end “wage theft” stemming from being misclassified as “independent contractors” rather than employees entitled to normal employee rights and protections. They claim the misclassification allowed companies to pay them less than minimum wage.

The failure to pay drivers as employees has created up to $998 million in annual liability for the industry stemming from wage and hour violations, according to the truckers, a spokeswoman for the drivers said in a statement.

Earlier this week, drivers for Pacer Cartage and Harbor Rail Transport, both subsidiaries of XPO Logistics, picketed trucks in San Diego hauling Toyota cargo from the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex intended for the Japanese automotive manufacturer’s plants in Mexico. The actions in Otay Mesa, along with those in Los Angeles and Long Beach drastically impacted company operations, according to the statement.

“It is unfortunate that the ports must suffer delays because unscrupulous companies continue to violate the law and misclassify their drivers,” said Fred Potter, Teamsters vice president and director of its port division. “However, we are beginning to see change in the industry as a number of some of the largest drayage firms have come to the table with the Teamsters to address the issue of misclassification and rights for workers.”

However, Potter said unless companies respect the law and properly classify their drivers, more and larger strikes could be expected.

The labor dispute began in Los Angeles and Long Beach three years ago when drivers sued the short-haul companies over the so-called misclassification, and filed various claims and class action suits for wage theft.

Last year, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement awarded seven San Diego drivers $2.2 million, but the ruling was later appealed. A judge has since filed a tentative ruling upholding the DLSE’s decision, according to the statement.

City News Service