L.A. Port Drivers Plan Strike Over Job Classification Issue

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By Jacquie Lee and Lawrence Dubé

California port truck drivers and warehouse workers, who are battling to become classified as employees rather than independent contractors, will strike June 19 at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., the Teamsters announced June 15.

The workers allege that misclassification leads to paltry wages and no benefits. Teamsters Local 848 has an unfair labor practices complaint pending on their behalf with the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office in Los Angeles ( XPO Cartage, Inc. and Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters , N.L.R.B. A.L.J., No. 21-CA-150873, motion denied 6/12/17 ).

An estimated 100 workers are expected to participate in the strike, Eric Tate, the secretary-treasurer of Local 848, told Bloomberg BNA.

The workers will strike against XPO Logistics, the target of the NLRB case, but employees from two other port employers have plans brewing to strike throughout the week of June 19 as well, Nick Weiner, campaign director for Justice for Port Drivers, told Bloomberg BNA. The other companies are California Cartage Company LLC and Intermodal Bridge Transport Inc.

XPO said not all of the drivers it contracts with want to be employed by the company.

“We know firsthand that a majority of owner operators prefer to work as independent contractors, and we will continue to advocate for their right to do so,” a spokesperson for XPO told Bloomberg BNA June 15.

Will Clean Air Goal Affect Drivers?

The strike comes one week after Long Beach and Los Angeles Mayors Robert Garcia and Eric Garcetti announced an addition to their Clean Air Action Plan. The plan is a long-standing joint effort to improve air quality in the region.

The mayors’ announcement involves a planned revision to a Clean Truck Program with a goal of zero emissions at the ports by 2035.

The strike is fueled by the alleged misclassification of drivers and warehouse workers, but Local 848 is also worried workers will shoulder the financial burdens of meeting the goals of the revised zero emissions plan, Tate said.

Company Wanted to Wait for Griffin Replacement

XPO is scheduled to defend itself against unfair labor practice allegations in a July 24 hearing. NLRB General Counsel Richard F. Griffin alleges the companies interfered with the rights of drivers to engage in union activity or concerted protests.

But the general counsel also alleges that merely by misclassifying drivers as independent contractors, XPO interfered with their rights as employees under the National Labor Relations Act.

In a June 6 motion, the companies argued that the NLRB hearing should be delayed because Griffin’s misclassification claim is “a completely novel, untested and unprecedented theory” that may not be endorsed when a new general counsel takes over. Griffin’s term ends Oct. 31, and his replacement must still be nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

Litigating the unfair labor practice cases while waiting for a new general counsel would be “an enormous waste of time and resources for the parties and the Agency,” XPO said in a motion before an NLRB administrative law judge.

However, the general counsel and the Teamsters opposed any postponement, and Administrative Law Judge Gerald M. Etchingham refused to stay the litigation.

Etchingham agreed with Griffin and the union that with or without an allegation that misclassifying drivers is itself an unfair labor practice, the pending complaints allege more than two dozen other unfair labor practices whose resolution will require determining whether the XPO drivers are employees or independent contractors.

Ruling that the company failed to show good cause for holding the cases in abeyance, he ordered that the hearing commence as scheduled on July 24.

‘It’s a Balancing Act’

Authorities at the Port of Los Angeles have seen their share of strikes and don’t expect the June 19 action to interfere largely with port business.

“We will work with the Teamsters and the truckers who are organizing to ensure that their First Amendment rights are respected and they are safe when they are out on our property,” Phillip Sanfield, a spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles, said.

“We also make sure that the port is open and cargo flows freely at the same time. It’s a balancing act,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee at jlee1@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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