LA Ports: Garcetti Making a Difference In Labor Dispute … Buscaino is Another Matter

JUST SAYIN’-There has been concern for quite some time over the congestion at our twin ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach.  This became particularly evident prior to and during the recent holiday season.  

There are a number of issues that can be attributed to creating this predicament—among them the ongoing need to modernize drayage operations that both the shippers and drivers agree will reduce congestion at the ports and on the freeways; to improve efficiency; and to maintain a stable labor force (whose ongoing complaints over wages, hours, work conditions, employment status, and unionization demands have led to work stoppages, strikes, and boycotts). 

There are two ways workers (at virtually any company) can become union-affiliated.  A petition signed by at least 30% of workers would be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to initiate the process.  Then agreement would have to be reached regarding time and place for voting as well as ballot language.  Once the results are announced, union certification is declared if the majority of drivers favor such representation. 

Importantly, employee freedom to choose must be honored above everything and cannot be hindered by any of the involved parties.  Thus, “threatening loss of jobs or benefits by an employer or a union, granting promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to influence the vote” will in no way ever be tolerated. 

The above-referenced battles are reminiscent of what has been going on with the El Super mercados.  In this case, despite high-pressure tactics exerted by management, the employees at the seven El Super union stores voted overwhelmingly to recertify the UFCW union—a real victory. 

There is a second method for obtaining union certification which is outside the NLRB process—card check.  If a majority of employees sign union authorization cards and the company agrees to honor that decision, a union can be sanctioned by that approach as well. 

Eight cartage corporations (see the list below) have been the object of contractual talks for months.  Some have been more willing than others to meet at the negotiating table to address worker grievances.  

One firm, Shippers Transport Express (STE), has agreed to allow its workers to form a union (Teamsters Local 848).  It has been incredible to realize that STE agreed voluntarily to dramatic employment changes, effective January 1st of this year:  The company “converted from an independent employment contractor business model to an employee-based drayage business.”  As of last November, STE employees could apply for employment under the new model. 

Both options, however, leave the nagging problem of misclassified employees.  A significant challenge remains regarding all those drivers who had been intentionally misclassified as independent contractors at STE and at other operations.  Some local drayage companies have no actual employees on their books, only utilizing “independent contractors”—people who, as a result, are responsible for every aspect of their connection with these companies:  maintaining and insuring their trucks (which they do not own), paying for their own gasoline, and so forth. 

Despite successful union negotiations, there remains a conundrum, a catch-22:  The NLRB “law does not cover … independent contractors.”  Therefore, getting these workers reclassified properly as actual company employees is of immediate and pressing importance and cannot be delayed.  Early clarification of their status and ultimate ability to apply for regular employment must be determined as soon as possible.  They must not be left hanging. 

Since independent contractors are not eligible for unionization, it is essential and consequential that misclassification status be rectified.  Until this happens, these workers are not eligible for any benefits coming from union contracts, such as unemployment and disability benefits, wage and hours protections, health benefits, paid sick leave, working conditions, retirement pensions, and so much more. 

What has made a difference that produced union-company agreements is the heavy involvement of Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti.  Not to be overlooked, there have also been and continue to be too many others to name individually but are the ones who have significantly contributed to achieve these goals.  However, I must mention in particular the ongoing efforts of CLUE-LA under the leadership of Rabbi Jonathan Klein; Father Will Connor, a prominent Roman Catholic activist;  Robert Uranga, Long Beach Councilmember, Kevin Baddeley of STE, and Rusty Hicks, the new AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer. 

On the other hand, I am dismayed by what can be perceived as support by some for the corporate world over the needs of working women and men.  One person who comes to mind is Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino, whose district includes the Los Angeles port area.  His voting record on port-related issues is disappointing to say the least.  In my opinion, it is a reflection and reminder that for some of our electeds who receive ongoing pecuniary support (particularly as it applies to re-election campaigns), votes can be influenced! 

Rabbi Klein must be quoted here:  

What is transpiring is “historic (January 1 2015, the first day of contractual change for STE), not just for port truck drivers, but for workers across America.  Too many workers face harassment, intimidation, and retaliation from management for exercising their right to form a union.  Respecting drivers’ rights to form a union is the moral and just thing to do, as taught by religious tradition.” 

Nevertheless, there remain those companies which are at varying degrees of negotiations for resolving these employment challenges, disputes that deserve immediate attention and resolution.  We must continue to apply pressure on these companies, and not let up on the lawmakers who consider and pass laws that impact contract and other decisions affecting port companies and their drivers. 

Just sayin’.

 

List of the eight cartage companies that are still in discussions:

  • Green Fleet Systems                                
  • Total Transportation Services, Inc. (TTSI)
  • Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9)
  • QTS, Inc.
  • WIN-WIN Logistics. Inc.
  • LACA Express, Inc.
  • Pacer Cartage
  • Harbor Rail Transport (HRI)        

The Hub Group and STE have already reached agreements.

 

(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written A Quick-and=Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition, Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 13, 2015