Twenty-four truck port drivers have been awarded $6 million by the California Labor Commissioner for what was deemed intentional misclassification of the drivers as independent contractors.
For the first time, the Labor Commissioner has also issued individual joint liability against one of the company’s employees, a general manager at NFI’s California Cartage Express, who oversaw the drivers of that company.
In a statement to Heavy Duty Trucking magazine, NFI clarified that the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement decision was about violations that took place prior to NFI’s acquisition of Cal Cartage in October of 2017 and were not issued against NFI or its Cal Cartage operations.
The company is appealing the decision, which it said would make the current $6 million judgement void and subject to a new trial.
The company also pushed back on the whole issue of driver misclassification, which it characterized as an ongoing effort by the Teamsters to force independent port drivers to become employees.
“It is a shame that the Teamsters and their supporters fail to acknowledge that there are thousands of available positions in Southern California for those drivers who would prefer to be employees,” NFI stated.
The Harbor Trucking Association, a group that represents port trucking companies and other drayage stakeholders on the West Coast, also attacked the Teamsters. Weston LaBar, chief executive officer of the HTA, told HDT, “This is another example of the Teamsters Union misrepresenting the truth to help exploit workers in to forced collective bargaining agreements and highlights why the California Trucking Association is suing the Secretary of Labor and her department.”
LaBar also told HDT that the HTA supports any measure that would help protect against the exploitation of drivers, but said that there wasn’t enough being done to protect the rights of drivers who choose to be independent.
“The HTA will continue to fight for right of drivers to choose whether they want to be employees or contract independently,” said LaBar. “Perhaps one day we will see the Teamsters and a majority of our elected officials make decisions with the driver’s best interests in mind as opposed to their own.”
While independent drivers are commonplace in the trucking industry, California has consistently ruled against trucking companies that use independent contractors as a tactic to avoid paying drivers proper wages and benefits that would be owed to a full employee, a practice labeled driver misclassification.
Late last year, California passed a law that would also hold retailers partly accountable for working with trucking companies that had a record of labor violations, such as misclassification. The Los Angeles City council, which has jurisdiction over one of the major ports complexes in Southern California, has also been actively pushing against the use of independent contractors, and has looked into possibly banning trucking and warehousing companies that break local, state and federal employment laws from operating on city property.