Drivers misclassification lawsuit ruling is a win for Teamsters

Peter Tirschwell
The Journal of Commerce
February 02, 2015
View the original piece
A Superior Court judge on Thursday ruled that seven drivers working for Pacer Cartage at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are employees and are owed a total of more than $2 million in damages.
 
The ruling was a victory for  labor activists and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who see misclassification of drivers as their latest opportunity to unionize the port drayage labor force. But the ruling, coming after two years of legal maneuvering, underscored the expensive and time-consuming nature of the Teamsters’ strategy, under which trucking companies have to be challenged individually in court. Thus, there should be caution in assessing the implications of this particular victory for the broader Teamsters strategy.
 
Yet that is the strategy the union is resorting to after earlier efforts, such as a Port of Los Angeles plan to require that truckers calling at its terminals be employees as part of an overall environmental initiative, proved unsuccessful. That is why some see the Teamsters as waging an uphill battle to unionize the U.S. drayage labor force, at least in union friendly states such as California, and thus potentially be in a position to exercise the type of powerful leverage over trade enjoyed by highly paid longshore labor workers such as members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
 
According to a report in the Torrance, California, Daily Breeze, Judge Jay M. Bloom ruled Pacer had an employer-employee relationship with the truckers and thus owned them the same benefits and protections as it offers to employees, including health care, overtime pay and sick leave. He ordered Pacer to pay the seven drivers damages ranging from $85,632 to $387,936. The key determinant in an employment relationship is whether the worker has control over his or her activities.
 
“This case sets the stage for all the other cases that are pending,” the drivers’ attorney, Alvin Gomez, said at a news conference Thursday, as reported by the Breeze. “Now, every truck company is put on notice that if they have a similar scheme in place, (they) are in willing violation of California law.”
 
“From the evidence, it appears that Pacer had the control,” the judge’s decision stated.
 
XPO Logistics, the parent company of Pacer Cartage, and Harbor Rail Transport, another local drayage unit, said they would appeal the ruling, the Breeze reported.
 
“We believe the drivers in question are properly classified as contractors, and that this case is without merit,” the company said in an e-mailed statement to the Breeze.

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