Oct 15, 2018
Truck drivers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports staged a three-day strike in early October, to protest blatant exploitation at the hands of the trucking companies they work for.
The drivers are demanding to be classified as employees of the companies. Under the pretext that drivers are “independent contractors,” companies refuse to pay drivers regular wages and benefits. In addition, by forcing drivers to lease the trucks, companies dump the trucks’ gas, maintenance and insurance expenses on the drivers. All this amounts to massive wage theft by these big corporations, often pushing drivers’ pay down to less than minimum wage. It is not even that unusual for a trucker to end a week’s work owing money to the company!
The truckers’ struggle against the companies’ robbery goes back for years. This month’s strike was the 16th such action by the drivers in the last five years alone. The strike was organized by the Teamsters union, which is trying to unionize the drivers, by first trying to help them gain “employee” status through legal means.
But the legal battlefield is rigged against the drivers. On the third day of the strike, drivers and their supporters held a protest against the federal government’s ending of the TPS (Temporary Protected Status) program, which had given immigrants fleeing the wars in Central America the right to stay in the U.S. Some of the port drivers are immigrants on TPS status, which not only limits their rights in their fight against the companies, but now also puts them under the direct threat of deportation!
Instead of appealing to politicians, the truckers could certainly try to rely on their own forces, as well as their fellow drivers and other port workers who, even if they have “employee” status, are exploited by the port companies as well. Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two largest ports in the U.S., together handling more than 40 percent of the country’s shipping container traffic – and that means port workers have a lot of power which, if organized, they could use to wage an effective fight against exploitation.