Seven port truck drivers employed by Pacer Cartage who were misclassified as independent contractors have been awarded a total of more than $2.2 million for unlawful deductions, reimbursable business expenses, interest, waiting time penalties and attorneys fees by the California Labor Commissioner, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

The ruling was handed down March 12 and was announced Wednesday in a press release from the law firm representing the drivers.

In the ruling, Hearing Officer Dan Minchey wrote, “The defendant considered the plaintiffs to be independent contractors; however, the amount of control exhibited by the defendant over the plaintiffs was to such a degree that the defendant knew or should have known that the plaintiffs were employees.”

Pacer is expected to appeal the rulings.

Additional lawsuits have been filed by individual drivers for wage theft in the Superior Court of Los Angeles against PDS Trucking/Pacer International and Intermodal Container Service, dba Harbor Rail Transport/Pacer International.

“We believe that these decisions, coupled with the lawsuits that we have recently filed and those we intend to file in coming weeks, will force the drayage industry to make long overdue changes in their business practices to comply with state and federal labor laws,” said Alvin Gomez of the Gomez Law Group, who represents the drivers.

The law firm notes on March 21, the Los Angeles Times reported the DLSE “has sided with drivers in all 30 of the cases decided so far, determining that the workers had been misclassified as independent contractors when their job requirements made them tantamount to employees.”

These seven new adjudicated cases bring that unanimous count to 37 findings against port trucking companies, according to the firm.

According to employee rights advocate David Arambula of the Gomez Law Group drivers went weeks without receiving any pay, but they continued working with the hope that the company would eventually pay them retroactively for the money they rightfully earned.

“Sadly, this did not happen and many drivers felt they had no recourse except to quit under the ever present threat that they would be sued if they stopped paying for the company truck and all other business-related expenses that the company should have borne itself,” he said

Arambula said the March ruling comes as the California DLSE is reviewing more than 500 similar claims from port truck drivers who allege to be misclassified as independent contractors by their employers. An additional 12 class action lawsuits and at least two individual lawsuits are also pending in various courts. 

Some trucking industry observers believe recent efforts seeking rulings that port truckers are actually employees, rather than independent contractors, is part of a wider movement so unions can organize these drivers. Currently, federal law prohibits independent contractors from participating in collective bargaining.