National labor organizations intensified their attack on the classification of harbor truck drivers as independent contractors with the release Wednesday of the report, "The Big Rig: Poverty, Pollution and the Misclassification of Truck Drivers at America's Ports."
The legal classification of a truck driver as either an employee or an independent contractor has huge implications for harbor trucking companies at U.S. container ports. Independent contractors, by law, can not be unionized. If those same drivers are classified as employees, labor organizations such as the Teamsters, which are attempting to organize harbor truck drivers nationwide, would be free to organize them.
Two labor organizations, the National Employment Law Project and Change to Win, which is affiliated with the Teamsters, held a joint call-in press conference Wednesday to discuss their efforts to achieve employee classification for harbor truck drivers.
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"Employment status matters," said Rebecca Smith, an attorney with NELP. Employee drivers would be protected by minimum wage statutes; they would have access to unemployment insurance and would have legal recourse if fired by the company. Also, they could join a union, Smith said.
Furthermore, alleged misclassification of drivers as independent contractors is costing governments at the state and federal levels millions of dollars in lost taxes each year, said Paul Marvy, an attorney with Change to Win.
Smith charged that drivers are in reality employees because the companies control their work procedures. Drivers are told at which terminals they must call. Some contracts forbid drivers from working for other harbor drayage firms. Unlike independent contractors in other industries, the drivers have no say as to how much they are paid.
However, the misclassification issue can be a legal quagmire because it is so clogged with detail. Thousands of harbor trucking companies operate at ports across the country, and each company has its own unique contract.
For that reason, the ideal solution to the independent contractor issue would be for Congress to establish a national policy making it clear that misclassification is illegal and establishing guidelines to ensure the practice is ended at all U.S. ports, Smith said.
The driver classification issue has been present for a number of years, but has taken on added importance recently because ports are developing clean-truck programs that mandate the phasing out of old, polluting trucks. This presents a problem for owner-operators because they must purchase or lease a low-polluting, new-model truck.
Since many drivers can not afford to pay $100,000 for a new truck, motor carriers at some ports are purchasing the vehicles and the drivers are either leasing the trucks or are participating in lease-to-purchase arrangements. Those contracts sometimes contain provisions that labor attorneys believe demonstrate an employer-employee relationship.
-- Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.