Drivers

Port Trucking Company Ordered to Court Over Unfair Labor Practices

April 26, 2016

By Steven Martinez

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Photo via Teamsters Union
Photo via Teamsters Union

In what's being called a historic case, the Los Angeles office of the National Labor Relations Board is looking into whether port trucking company Intermodal Bridge Transport engaged in unfair labor practices toward its drivers by misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

The NLRB filed the complaint based on charges by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union that IBT was misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors to prevent them unionizing and accessing other protections given by the National Labor Relations Act. The Teamsters also charged IBT with threatening and coercing drivers who participated in union-organized strikes.

The charges were sent to the NLRB offices to determine whether or not a legal complaint would be issued based on the merit of those charges.

IBT must now file an official answer to the complaint and has been ordered to appear before an NLRB administrative law judge in court on June 13. The court will give both sides an opportunity to present arguments and testimony to the allegations in the complaint.

“The complaint issued by the NLRB regional director represents a determination that misclassifying drivers in and of itself violates the NLRA,” explained Julie Gutman Dickinson, attorney for the Teamsters Port Division. “The complaint will lead to an historic trial where for the first time a judge will determine whether the act of misclassifying drivers in and of itself violates the National Labor Relations Act.”

According to court documents, on two separate occasions drivers were interrogated by a supervisor at IBT about their support for the Teamsters union. The supervisor promised drivers more work to get them to stop union activities and later resorted to threatening them with unspecified consequences if they continued to support the union. The supervisor also threatened to close the facility if the Teamsters succeeded, according to the union.

HDT has reached out to IBT for comment Tuesday, but as of the time of posting this story they have not responded.

The NLRB is unable to initiate its own cases and can only act on charges made by outside parties. It also does not have the power to issue punitive damages under the National Labor Relations Act, but if a company like IBT loses its court case, it would most likely be ordered to make the situation whole.

The driver misclassification issue is an ongoing one at Southern California ports, with several driver strikes occurring in the past few years affecting multiple trucking companies. Last year, the Los Angeles City Council called on port trucking companies to provide drivers with proper wages and benefits and comply with labor laws.

The strikes and lawsuits have had an effect on port trucking companies. Recently, Premium Transportation Services filed for bankruptcy, citing driver misclassification lawsuits and legal costs as a big reason for its financial troubles. The company had lost several misclassification cases costing it over $7 million altogether. As many as 720 drivers had filed wage complaints with the Labor Commissioner’s office as of December 2015.

Comments

  1. 1. David [ April 27, 2016 @ 06:16AM ]

    A driver hires on with a company as a contractor, then complains because he's not an employee? Why not work for a company that hires him as an employee from the beginning?

  2. 2. John [ April 27, 2016 @ 07:07AM ]

    David, that makes way too much sense

  3. 3. David [ April 27, 2016 @ 07:21AM ]

    Thanks, John. I think some of these guys are union plants.

    The problem I see, if they are successful at getting the classification changed, they take away an option many want. Even though they have the option to be either right now. Seems like only the unions win.

  4. 4. Paul [ April 27, 2016 @ 08:24AM ]

    There is another side to this. I own a small trucking company and play by the rules. I thought about having drivers and paying them as independent contractors, but if you own the equipment, give them direction, and they are not allowed to haul for other people, they are an employee. In my case, making other companies hire them as an employee levels the playing field. If I must pay unemployment insurance, SSI, and mainly workers comp. insurance(24% of their wages), then it gives them an edge....it also lowers trucking rates and in turn wages and benefits. So myself, these people knew they were breaking the labor laws, I don't feel one bit sorry for them. It just means rates will go up and I will once again be competitive in this market.

  5. 5. Doc [ April 27, 2016 @ 09:50AM ]

    Paul, I agree wholeheartedly. I run a small trucking company and I too treat my drivers like the valuable asset that they are. This "independent contractor" classification in trucking has gone on way too long and makes it extremely difficult to fairly compete. My level of service must exceed expectations of my customers, because my price usually exceeds what my (unfair) competition is willing to accept. I just want a level playing field, and all drivers should be paid for all the hours they are working/loading/waiting.

  6. 6. Idle Rig Solutions [ May 01, 2016 @ 01:24PM ]

    Companies are allowed to place certain restrictions on employees that they are not allowed to make on contractors (how expenses are paid, details of how the work is done, etc). Companies do this because it frees them from certain payroll taxes and other expenses.

    If the company hires contractors and treats them like employees, they're violating the law, and the contractors have a legitimate case for misclassification. The rules aren't always clear, and it's more likely that a Union shop would who knows the rules, and can call out when employers are making demands of contractors that are inappropriate.

    (See https://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Independent-Contractor-Self-Employed-or-Employee)

  7. 7. Stu Helfer [ May 02, 2016 @ 03:35PM ]

    Questions:

    Does the driver own the truck?

    If no, the driver is an Employee.

    Does the driver run the risk of discipline or termination in the case of wrongdoings?

    If yes, the the driver is an Employee.

    Does the Driver get told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc.?

    If yes, then the driver is an Employee.

    Is the driver subject to random drug testing by IBT?

    If yes, then the driver is an Employee.

    Is the Motor Carrier Permit and insurance paid by other than the driver?

    If yes, then the driver is an employee.

 

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