May 4, 2015 2:00 AM, EDT

SoCal Truckers Go on Strike Against Four Drayage Fleets

Justice for Port Truck Drivers
By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the May 4 print edition of Transport Topics.

Several hundred truck drivers at the Southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach went on strike last week against four fleets, including two controlled by XPO Logistics, seeking recognition as company employees instead of contractors.

The walkout against XPO’s Pacer Cartage and Harbor Rail Transport units — as well as Pacific 9 Transport of Carson, California, and New

Jersey-based Intermodal Bridge Transport — began April 27 and continued for a fourth day as Transport Topics went to press.

The strike was coordinated by Justice for Port Truck Drivers, which is attempting to organize drivers to employee status that would make them eligible for Teamsters union membership.

There have been no reports of interruption of cargo flow at the nation’s two largest ports.

“These are some of the biggest trucking companies in the port,” said Barb Maynard, a spokeswoman for the organizing group. “It is up to these companies to say, ‘Yes, we will follow the law.’ The picket lines could come down in a matter of hours if the companies say they will follow the law.”

Workers said on a conference call they are seeking to be considered company employees. They are charging “wage theft” because their paychecks as contractors have improper deductions that crimp income.

Spokesmen for the ports confirmed there were pickets April 30 at several terminals, but cargo continued to flow.

The drivers’ action is the latest step that could disrupt the nation’s two largest ports.

Cargo flow was cut by about half in the days leading up to a tentative agreement between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that was reached two months ago.

Since the tentative deal, cargo movements have resumed and container shipments have rebounded.

A milestone was reached April 30, the first time in six months there were no containerships waiting at anchor to be unloaded. Six weeks ago, that figure was 28, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

Los Angeles and Long Beach have a total of 13 cargo terminals, with a daily cargo volume of as many as 35,000 containers moved by an estimated 10,000 drivers.

“Independent contractors are used widely throughout the trucking business,” said a spokeswoman for XPO, which ranks No. 12 on the Transport Topics Top 50 list of largest logistics companies in North America. “We are in regular dialogue with our independent-contract drivers and believe the vast majority of them value the significant benefits of operating independently. We’re committed to helping them succeed.”

Pac 9 and Intermodal Bridge Transport did not respond to several requests for comment.

Maynard said the walkout is continuing with no fixed date for ending it.

She told TT the strikers are backed by pickets at nearly 20 locations, including company facilities and port terminals.

Some drivers seeking employee status at Pacer have won court cases, claiming they were misclassified as independent contractors. Those cases are being appealed.

The driver group said there was “major disruption” to the operation of the trucking companies and their customers, including parts for Toyota Motor Co. vehicles.

However, Toyota spokeswoman Amanda Rice told TT that “we do not anticipate any issues at this time.”

Maynard also said the union and Green Fleet Systems, another drayage carrier, have entered into a “labor-peace agreement” to facilitate a representation election.

Talks regarding a contract were continuing with Total Transportation Services Inc., another fleet that has been an organizing target, she said.