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.