Owner-Operator Truck Drivers to Sue LA-LB Terminals

According to the Journal of Commerce, more than two dozen owner-operator truck drivers are suing six container terminals or their affiliates in port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, charging that the terminals blocked their entry to the facilities during Teamsters demonstrations in the harbor this summer in order to ensure peace with the union.

The Teamsters had discussed  with the terminal operators that if they disrupted demonstrations, the unions would ensure picketing did not occur at those particular terminals; the non-unionized drivers were not allowed access while the unionized ones were allowed to pass through freely.

According to the lawsuit, “the Teamsters together with the defendant terminals conspired and continue to conspire to destroy the businesses of the plaintiff owner-operator drivers who for periods of up to three days were denied access to defendants’ terminals and therefore were denied his/her constitutional rights to earn a living”.

The suit asks the court to assess a civil penalty of $2,500 against each terminal, an additional civil penalty for conspiracy against trade of $1 million against each terminal, and not less than $120,000 for economic and non-economic damages. The suit also seeks an order preventing the terminals from committing further acts of unfair competition. The complaint identified about 500 container moves the owner-operators were denied during the Teamsters’ job actions that took place in Los Angeles-Long Beach from June through October.

The lawsuit sheds light on the complex conditions of harbor trucking not only in the largest US port complex, but at container ports across the nation. When trucking in the United States was deregulated in 1980, it evolved relatively quickly from an industry dominated by employee drivers, many of whom belonged to the Teamsters union, to a business model that relies upon independent-contractor drivers. By law, independent contractors in any industry can not be unionized.

The situation is complex because at many drayage companies some of the drivers want to be unionized because of the stable pay and benefits that come from employee status, but others prefer being owner-operators and say they can actually earn more money as independent contractors. Harbor trucking companies, even those that favor the owner-operator model, have maintained over the years that the most important element at work in the harbor should be freedom of choice for the drivers, without any “bullying” involved.

Marine terminal operators are caught up in the struggle involving trucking companies, the Teamsters, those drivers who want to be unionized, and those who want to remain independent.

That struggle often plays out in front of terminal gates, where the Teamsters for months have been conducting random “strikes” against whichever of the hundreds of Los Angeles-Long Beach trucking companies they are targeting.

The terminal operators say they are innocent third-party victims of a labor dispute that involves the Teamsters, trucking companies, and drivers, none of whom the terminals employ or have contracts with.

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