There the 63-year-old driver says he faced a bill for $10,500 in repairs for a truck he doesn't even own. That will take a big chunk out of his pretax pay of about $2,500 a week, which is reduced by more than half by his expenses for fuel, insurance and the truck lease itself. Subtract federal, payroll and state taxes, and Lara may be working for less than $18 an hour, with no benefits.
Lara is classified at his trucking company, California Cartage Express, as an “independent contractor,” not an employee, even though he says he drives exclusively for the company and operates under the control of its dispatchers.
The vast majority of the roughly 12,000 regular truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach are classified by their bosses as independent contractors. But as federal and state judges and labor regulators have consistently ruled, they’re employees in all but name. They just don’t get the benefits — access to employer-owned equipment, workers compensation and unemployment insurance, employer contributions to Social Security and minimum wage protection.
They don’t get retirement or healthcare coverage, or reimbursement for their work expenses. Typically, they work on 90-day renewable contracts, which means they can effectively be fired at will, with no recourse to the protection against arbitrary treatment enjoyed by employees.
The misclassification of workers as independent contractors is a national scandal. But the port may be the single most concentrated example of this race to the bottom in the American workplace. Port trucking “really is a case study in the bigger economic trends we have seen since the 1980s,” says Jessica Durrum, head of the clean & safe ports campaign for LAANE, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. “This is not about one or two bad apples.”
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