Nov 24, 2014
Truck drivers are on strike against five trucking companies that serve Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.
The two ports handle 40 per cent of the country’s imported goods, and the big companies that run the transportation in and out of the harbor make huge amounts of profit. But many of the truck drivers who transport those goods and generate the big profits for the companies work for very low wages – some even for less than minimum wage.
The scam that trucking companies pull is to call truckers “independent contractors” instead of company employees. That way truckers, who routinely put in 12 hours or more a day, don’t get paid for the time in between assignments, nor for their breaks or overtime; and they don’t get benefits either. On top of that, truckers are responsible for the fuel, parking, insurance and maintenance costs of the trucks – which puts drivers under a huge debt.
Many drivers have to work 40 hours a week just to cover the cost of supposedly “owning” their truck, or “leasing” it from the trucking company they work for – which basically indentures them to one company. But somehow they’re not employees?!
The companies’ exploitation of the drivers is so blatant that drivers have won dozens of wage theft claims they filed with the California Labor Commission in the past few years. The state has ordered the companies to pay drivers millions of dollars in back pay – but companies haven’t paid. They are doing what companies always do – appeal the decision and let the case linger in courts for years. In the meantime, the companies continue to rake in millions of dollars in profits, while drivers and their families continue to live in poverty.
That’s why the truckers are on strike – for the fifth time in the past year. Considering that there are many trucking companies, this is clearly a minority strike. But a strike’s impact can be greater than the number of participants. And a strike can expand. During a previous strike in July, dock workers honored the truckers’ picket lines, shutting down four terminals at the ports. That’s when, within two hours, the bosses got an “arbitrator ruling,” declaring the dock workers’ action illegal.
These truckers are clearly determined. And that determination opens up other possibilities: dock workers, and other port workers, could join the strike again this time, especially since the dock workers themselves are without a contract since July. If the truckers are able to spread their strike to more companies and more industries, they may trigger a bigger fight involving a bigger part of the working class.
That kind of fight is necessary for the working class to turn around the downward spiraling of wages and working conditions in this country.