The harbor trucking industry is clashing with the Teamsters union over a bill before the Washington state legislature that would classify owner-operators as employees rather than as independent contractors.
The bill is similar to legislation introduced last year in California. That bill was placed in the “inactive file” last summer when it failed to progress, but since California legislation can continue on for two years, it could be resurrected at any time this year.
Generally, the drayage truck driver classification issue is part of the Teamsters’ strategy to organize drivers at ports across the country. Unions can not organize independent contractors, but if truck drivers are classified as employees of harbor trucking companies, the Teamsters could legally organize the drivers.
The Washington Trucking Association, which opposes classifying drayage truck drivers as employees, told a legislative committee Tuesday in Olympia, Wash., that the bill would violate federal preemption law.
Larry Pursley, executive vice president of the trucking association, said attempts by a state or local entity to regulate the routes, rates or services of trucks engaged in interstate commerce violates federal preemption law. This stance was confirmed in a decision made last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in the Port of Los Angeles clean-truck case.
Therefore, even if the bill would be approved by the legislature, the trucking association would challenge it, Pursley said.
The Teamsters charge that misclassification of drivers as independent contractors denies the drivers normal financial protections such as overtime wages and unemployment benefits that they would receive as full-time employees. Also, misclassification results in lost tax revenue to the state that would normally be paid by employers.
Heather Weiner, the Teamsters political director in Washington State, said the legislation could move quickly due to the relatively short 60-day session of the legislature. If the bill is approved in the House of Representatives and the State Senate, it could go up for final approval in early March, she said.
The Teamsters are also supporting another bill that would make equipment providers in Washington State responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of chassis. The bill is a response to a local television station investigation of unsafe equipment. The report charged that port trucks are the most dangerous on the road, Weiner said.
This bill would probably not result in the Teamsters organizing any drivers, but the union supports it as a safety issue for drivers and other motorists, she said.
Some industry groups oppose the Washington bill, charging that it conflicts with federal roadability legislation that took effect last year. The legislation passed by Congress calls for shared responsibility among equipment providers, truckers and others in the goods movement industry.