On the picket line

Calif. port truck drivers stage 48-hour strike

In their latest effort to end workplace violations and wage theft and to win union recognition, more than 100 truck drivers who haul cargo in and out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and their supporters picketed several trucking companies and marine terminals at both ports on April 28-29. The truckers, who have been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees, have filed lawsuits and more than 500 complaints for wage theft with state and federal labor agencies to change their status and protect their rights. Not only do the trucking firms deduct special fees for fuel, maintenance and insurance from the drivers’ earnings due to their “independent” status, but they have retaliated and threatened the workers for trying to unionize. So far, 32 drivers have won decisions against 13 trucking firms, netting them $3.8 million in wages and penalties, according to the state’s Department of Industrial Relations. (latimes.com, April 26)

“These used to be good paying jobs, and [the trucking companies have] basically turned them into slave jobs,” Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 848, told the April 28 Long Beach Press Telegram. “The companies are pointing us out as the enemy when we’re just trying to police the industry.” Justice for Port Truck Drivers organized the 48-hour strike. Drivers at the port in Savannah, Ga., also held a protest on April 28.

Support human rights for tobacco workers

Farm Labor Organizing Committee President Baldemar Velásquez addressed the British American Tobacco’s shareholders’ meeting in London on April 30. His goal was to win BAT’s support to improve working conditions for migrant tobacco workers in North Carolina. BAT is the largest shareholder (42 percent) in and major customer of Reynolds American Inc., which has a shameful record of wage theft and flagrant human rights violations. A 2011 report by Oxfam America and FLOC, “A State of Fear: Human Rights Abuses in North Carolina’s Tobacco Industry,” reported that farmworkers live in labor camps with inadequate or nonfunctioning toilets and showers, as well as other substandard conditions; suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides; and work long hours for below-poverty wages. FLOC was supported at the meeting by England’s Food Workers union, as well as the AFL-CIO and UNITE, which represents BAT workers in England.

This action marks a new campaign to secure workers’ human and organizing rights for thousands of N.C. immigrant farmworkers. Next on the agenda is a rally in Raleigh outside the Reynolds’ shareholders’ meeting on May 8. To pressure BAT to sign the agreement supporting FLOC’s campaign, sign the petition on iuf.org.