On the picket line

Huge wage theft in port trucking industry

The National Employment Law Project issued a report Feb. 19 that revealed what drivers in the U.S. port trucking industry already know: They are being cheated out of millions of dollars of income due to wage theft and other illegal business practices. The report, “The Big Rig Overhaul,” detailed years of wage theft, labor law violations, safety hazards and tax evasion through the illegal practice of misclassifying employee drivers as independent contractors. As a result of the misclassification scam, port trucking contractors are currently liable for an estimated $850 million in stolen wages per year in California alone.

It’s estimated that nearly 50,000 of the country’s 75,000 drivers who transport goods from ports to distribution points for big box stores like Walmart and Costco are misclassified. In fact, port drivers in California have filed some 400 complaints with the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for wage theft violations related to misclassification.

In addition to a series of one-day strikes at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports last August, truck drivers are publicly defending their rights. The Orange County Register reported that truck drivers and their supporters rallied at the Los Angeles Superior Court building on Feb. 18 to protest contractors’ retaliation against them for filing a class-action complaint.

Port truck drivers once held well-paying jobs as Teamsters, but over the past 30 years, the jobs have been degraded as a result of deregulation, rampant misclassification and workplace laws not keeping up with the fast-changing industry. The port trucking report, a collaboration of the NELP, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and the Change to Win Strategic Organizing Center, supports passage of three federal laws to remedy these anti-worker conditions. (nelp.org, Feb. 24) But it’s the workers fighting for their lives who will drive corrupt practices out of this industry.

Dunkin’ workers in NYC win union

Sometimes the workers’ struggle takes a surprising turn. That happened in New York City on Feb. 12, when the Newspaper Guild of New York announced that its new three-year contract with Hudson News will include 67 fast-food workers at three Dunkin’ Donuts shops operated by Hudson News in New York City’s Penn Station. The Guild, Communication Workers Local 31003, noted proudly that these mostly immigrant workers are “the only unionized fast-food workforce in the city.”

The new contract includes wage increases that will lift the current average salary of $9.28 an hour by a total of 9.7 percent over three years. The contract also includes paid sick leave up to five days a year after one year of service, unpaid leaves of absence up to 35 days once every two years (so workers can visit their home countries), and access to a company-matching retirement plan. The contract also covers 257 workers at company newsstands at several Manhattan travel hubs. (nyguild.org, Feb. 12)

Twin Cities airport workers demand no poverty wages

More than 600 workers at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport who clean the planes, handle baggage and provide disabled passengers with wheelchair and cart service are paid poverty wages with no benefits. Demanding that the airlines share their prosperity, the workers are fighting for a living wage and good benefits from their contractor bosses.

A protest, called by Service Employees Local 26, was held on Feb. 28 on the mezzanine level of the airport. Workers demonstrated with signs demanding health care benefits, a living wage, paid sick days and a clear call to “end poverty wages at the airport.” (seiulocal26. org, Feb. 28) WW hopes these workers are spurred on by the recent wage hike won by workers at JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York City.

Tell Walmart: Follow The Gap

It didn’t take long after The Gap announced on Feb. 19 that it was increasing workers’ starting pay to $10 an hour for Walmart workers, who have been fighting for raises, benefits, better working conditions and union representation, to start a petition to pressure Walmart to do the same thing. To add your name, click on “A Growing Gap (Feb. 21)” at makingchangeatwalmart.org. (changewalmart.org, Feb. 24)