By Doug Porter
California’s port truckers make it possible for the both the old and new retail economies.of the world to function. This week they’re calling strikes and staging picket lines at ports on the West Coast, including San Diego.
This work stoppage is about more than wages and benefits; it’s about an economic nightmare akin to involuntary servitude enabled by corporations like Toyota, Walmart, Target, and Amazon.
Companies like XPO Logistics, Inc.–the target of this week’s actions– are illegally misclassifying workers as independent contractors, forcing them into a debt peonage system of the sort most Americans think vanished a century ago.
There are picket lines at XPO facilities in Commerce, Rancho Dominguez, and San Diego, along with the twin ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, and the Intermodal Rail Intermodal Container Transfer Facility operated by Union Pacific Railroad
A USA Today exposè published this week documents a world where drivers chained by debt to their employers work 20 hours a day and take home less than a dollar after expenses are deducted from their pay.
Port trucking companies in Southern California do this by making drivers finance their trucks. Companies have used this debt as leverage to extract forced labor, with supervisors refusing to let drivers end their shifts to meet impossible delivery schedules.
The yearlong investigation involved interviews with over 300 drivers, sworn testimony, and contracts matching trucking companies with “the most labor violations to dozens of retail brands, including Target, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Hasbro, J.Crew, UPS, Goodyear, Costco, Ralph Lauren and more.”
From USA Today:
If a driver quit, the company seized his truck and kept everything he had paid towards owning it.
If drivers missed payments, or if they got sick or became too exhausted to go on, their companies fired them and kept everything. Then they turned around and leased the trucks to someone else.
Drivers who manage to hang on to their jobs sometimes end up owing money to their employers – essentially working for free. Reporters identified seven different companies that have told their employees they owe money at week’s end.
XPO Logistics’ subsidiaries, XPO Cartage and XPO Port Services, Inc., are among the top trucking companies servicing the ports in Southern California. Although the company already faces judgments from the California Labor Commissioner for $1 million to five drivers, they are appealing the decision.
XPO is just one bad actor in what appears to be an industry-wide scheme. Over the past six years, port truck drivers have filed at least 875 claims with the CA Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). with determinations made in at least 376 cases, finding that drivers were employees.
Another 150 pending claims that are still awaiting hearings. The remaining approximately 350 cases filed appear to have been settled prior to hearing or were transferred to court or private arbitration. Over $40 million in stolen wages and penalties has been assessed.
From NBC4 Los Angeles:
The strike is the 15th at the ports in the last four years. Because of the large number of companies operating at the Port of Los Angeles, the strikes have had “minimal” effect on port operations, Phillip Sanfield, a Port of Los Angeles spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.
Representatives of the striking drivers charge that the underpayment schemes are designed to boost the compensation of CEOs.
“Over the past 10 years, CEO pay has increased 997 percent, driven in part by companies subcontracting out work. One of the most insidious corporate schemes is to classify employees as `independent contractors’,” according to the statement.
Drivers on the West Coast are being organized by the Teamsters Union, which has faced an uphill battle due to union-busting consultants and a dogged determination by the port trucking industry to fight every claim to the bitter end.
From the Teamster media material on this week’s walkout:
American corporations like XPO have pushed tens of millions of American truck drivers, warehouse workers, and service sector workers into poverty through greedy subcontracting schemes designed to increase CEO pay. Over the past ten years, CEO pay has increased 997 percent, driven in part by companies that subcontract work. One of the most insidious corporate schemes is to classify employees as “independent contractors.”
Corporations illegally misclassify workers as independent contractors to:
- Lower wages;
- Avoid paying benefits to workers;
- Evade laws providing protections to employees, such as minimum wage, overtime, health and safety, unemployment benefits, or workers’ compensation laws; and
- Shift risks and business expenses onto employees, including making employees pay for the company’s’ payroll taxes (Social Security, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation policies, etc.).
— Justice4PortDrivers! (@PortDriverUnion) June 19, 2017
There was good news in National City on Monday evening. Weeks of activism paid off when the City Council voted unanimously to declare itself a so-called “compassionate community” for refugees and immigrants. The council also voiced support for SB54, a bill proposing to label California as a sanctuary state, currently headed to an Assembly committee after it passing the State Senate along party lines.
From CBS 8:
“It’s more than just words. It’s also a message that immigrant communities need to hear that their local elected leaders are standing shoulder to shoulder with them,” said Christian Ramirez with Alliance San Diego.
The “compassionate city” resolution adds more support for immigrants regardless of their residential status. The resolution stands up against bullying and supports the dreamers, which teachers are rallying behind. But not everyone is happy. Some are claiming more needs to be done.
Progressive activists and immigration advocates spent four months attending meetings, organizing public turnout for hearings, and even filed a Brown Act lawsuit against Mayor Morrison/Vice Mayor Mendivil and Councilmember Cano.
The City Council voted unanimously to rescind the Mayor’s “All-Lives-Matter” resolution and adopt a resolution nearly identical to the original Welcoming Cities Resolution from Councilmember Alejandra Sotelo-Solis introduced back in February.
The meeting in National City came on the same day as undocumented immigrant Rosenda Duarte was finally released on bond and reunited with her 4 children. She and husband Francisco–who’d lived in the US for 20 years– were detained outside their home in late May, leaving three children in the care of the eldest son.
NBC News ran a story including a claim attributed to the Border Patrol saying the couple suspected to have been working as stash house operators for a transnational human smuggling operation.
Now it appears their actual crime was renting ice cream carts to undocumented immigrants and on occasion providing a place for them to stay. …Shades of the old days when hippies were busted for an ounce of pot worth $10 million.
Activists rallied to the family’s defense in recent weeks, raising money through Go Fund Me to support the children and staging protests at the Otay Detention Facility.
Senate Democrats took to the floor Monday evening to spotlight secretive efforts by the GOP to repeal former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, known as Obamacare.
They called for open committee hearings and more time to consider the bill before a Senate vote, which Republicans say could come in the next two weeks. A draft version of the bill has yet to emerge publicly.
The Senate GOP leadership’s current strategy involves leaving a 10 hour window open for debate –0.0016 seconds for each person who will lose coverage– and then introducing a last minute amendment gutting the legislation under consideration, replacing it with the actual language negotiated in secret… And you thought the House version was mean?
But wait! It gets worse!
According to The Hill, the Senate proposal will change the method by which growth in the Medicaid budget is determined, producing a massively larger cut than the House bill.
Here’s Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times, explaining just how bad this idea is:
It’s proper to note that there’s a major disconnect between the way the Republicans consider Medicaid, which is as a program that largely benefits the expendable poor, and the reality: It’s the nation’s largest single health insurer. Of its 73 million enrollees, 43% are children and 13% blind and disabled persons. The program covers “more than 60% of all nursing home residents and 40% of costs for long-term care services and supports,” reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The program pays for half of all births in the U.S.–in some states, two-thirds. Plainly, cutting or capping Medicaid benefits will cause pain and suffering across a broad spectrum of Americans.
Just last week, seven governors—including three Republicans—warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a letter that the House bill, H.R. 1628, “calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out.” They called its Medicaid provisions “particularly problematic,” to the extent they would be “shifting significant costs to the states.”
The truth is that this is not a “health care” bill. This is a “tax breaks for the rich and multinational corporations” bill.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 19, 2017
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