The COVID-19 global pandemic has underscored the urgency of both ending environmental injustice by acting on climate change, and ensuring justice for misclassified port truck drivers whose basic rights are denied
- Edmundo Cuevas
- (916) 319-2051
For video of the press conference, click here
(Sacramento, CA) – Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, Senator María Elena Durazo, and Senator Lena Gonzalez held a press conference Monday, April 5, to unveil a legislative package to Build Back Better under the pillars of a Green New Deal that focuses on protecting California’s essential port truck drivers who have been battered by the pandemic and increase accountability for trucking companies who misclassify drivers as independent contractors. Through misclassification, trucking companies exploit drivers and rob California of valuable tax revenue, while at the same time benefiting from taxpayer subsidies, including clean vehicle incentives.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters Port Division Director Ron Herrera and Port of Los Angeles driver Juan Giraldo joined the elected officials for the press conference unveiling the package, which includes AB 794, (Carrillo) and SB 700, (Durazo) and SB 338 (Gonzalez).
“Mitigating the impacts of climate change means fighting for a healthy economy and lifting up workers and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by unsustainable practices. That is why I have introduced Assembly Bill 794, the Climate Jobs and Equity Act, to ensure that public funding to manufacture and purchase cleaner vehicles is tied to labor standards,” said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo. “Those who work in our ports and the Californians along transportation routes disproportionately bear the health impacts of diesel emissions. AB794 delivers a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable present and builds towards a future aligned with the pillars of a Green New Deal in which a just transition is a reality,” she added.
Later that day, the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee held a hearing on SB 338, a key component of the legislative package that would hold accountable shippers and retailers when they contract with companies that misclassify workers or violate basic health and safety laws. To view the hearing, click here.
“For years, large trucking and retail companies have gotten away with stealing millions of dollars in wages from port truck drivers. And they have failed to follow basic health and safety laws, such as providing their workers with disability insurance, paid sick days, or during this COVID-19 pandemic, PPE and sanitized shared equipment,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez. “Port truck drivers often work grueling 16 hour-long shifts moving goods from ports, to freeways, to warehouses to make sure we all have access to the goods we need to survive. Let’s make sure that we advance efforts like SB 338 in order to incentivize contracts with companies that follow the law and provide the wages and worker protections that California truck drivers are due so they can be safe at work through the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future,” she added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgency of legislation addressing the crisis of worker misclassification that is rampant at California’s ports. Trucking companies systematically misclassify port truck drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, denying drivers basic protections like sick leave, unemployment and disability insurance, worker compensation, wage and hour protections, and health insurance.
At the same time, trucking companies force these drivers to pay for all of the business expenses that the companies are legally responsible for, including things like truck costs and even personal protective equipment. During the pandemic, misclassification has left drivers without a safety net and vulnerable to illness and economic calamity.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated the need for legislation to address the crisis of worker misclassification that is all too common at California’s ports. Widespread worker misclassification has left drivers without a safety net. It is not enough to just say we value essential workers - our legislation must match our rhetoric.” said Senator Maria Elena Durazo. “We must ensure that port truck drivers get fair access to the benefits they deserve and that we hold accountable the companies that cheat workers and the state. Drivers’ survival, their ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, depends upon timely access to benefits,” she added.
This year alone, trucking companies operating at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have come under increased scrutiny for their long history of worker misclassification and health and safety violations.
Last month, drivers filed a Cal/OSHA complaint against Universal Logistics Holdings (ULH) subsidiary Container Connection, alleging a long list of COVID-19 hazards present throughout the course of the drivers’ day-to-day work, during which they pick up shipping containers at the Port and transport them to warehouses. At virtually every point along the way, the complaint alleges, ULH/Container Connection fails to implement procedures to keep drivers safe from COVID-19. The complaint details numerous instances of lack of proper mask-wearing, lack of social distancing, failure to sanitize shared equipment and failure to notify workers about potential COVID-19 exposure.
And in a landmark victory for the rights of port truck drivers in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint last month against ULH- affiliated business enterprises Universal Intermodal Services, Southern Counties Express, Roadrunner Intermodal Services and Universal Truckload. The complaint alleges over 20 violations of federal labor law, including that Universal Intermodal Services violated the law by terminating its workforce of unionized drivers shortly following their union election victory in December 2019.
Over the past few years, courts and state agencies have resoundingly found drivers to be employees, including in almost 500 Labor Commissioner decisions resulting in over $60 million owed in unpaid wages and damages.
Juan Giraldo, a Los Angeles port truck driver, shared how drivers face severe hardship and are locked out of basic protections and relief when trucking companies misclassify them.
“When the pandemic hit and work dropped drastically, it took me over three months to get unemployment benefits because I had to prove I was misclassified. It was very stressful for my family, especially since I have a daughter I’m putting through school,” said Giraldo. “Drivers like me aren't getting a share of massive profits that trucking companies make, while our rights are denied. Trucking companies call us independent contractors, but we are independent in name only. We don't run our own business. We are like any employee but without the protections,” he added.
The trucking industry is rife with misclassification, labor violations, and adverse environmental and public health impacts. Therefore, the bills in the legislative package propose:
- AB 794 (Carrillo): Require that California Air Resources Board (CARB) grants, incentives and rebates for purchasing clean fleet and electric vehicles are tied to workforce and compliance standards, which will ensure both that climate goals are reached and that the state does not subsidize companies that violate workers’ rights and cheat the state out of tax dollars.
- SB 338 (Gonzalez): Identify repeat offenders who continually violate labor, employment, and health and safety laws to put retailers on notice, as well as make it easier to hold retailers or shippers accountable when they contract with trucking companies that misclassify workers, deny workers health and safety protections, or otherwise violate employment laws.
- SB 338 builds upon SB 1402 (Lara - 2018) to protect drivers, incentivize contracts with companies that follow the law, and ensure that both the state and individuals are able to recover back wages and taxes.
- SB 700 (Durazo): Help misclassified drivers access critical Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and protect them from facing unfair liability by clarifying that trucking companies that misclassify drivers are responsible for payroll taxes.
"The Teamsters have been fighting for fairness for port drivers for decades. We have worked closely with environmental justice organizations and the working-class communities of color around the ports because we know that a business model of misclassification results in more pollution, poverty, and bad jobs,” said Ron Herrera, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Port Division Director. “That’s why I am proud to support these three bills being introduced today designed to protect California’s essential port truck drivers and our environment from corporate greed and exploitation,” he added.
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo was elected as the representative of the 51st Assembly District in December of 2017. She is the Chair of Budget SubCommittee #4 on State Administration, and a member of the Appropriations, Budget, Health, Privacy and Consumer Protection, and Utilities and Energy Committees, as well as Chair of the Uplifting Girls and Women of Color in California Select Committee. Assemblywoman Carrillo represents the people of East Los Angeles, Northeast Los Angeles, and the neighborhoods of El Sereno, Echo Park, Lincoln Heights, Chinatown and parts of Silver Lake.