Why I Am on Strike at the LA and Long Beach Ports

port drivers strikeTonight, I was one of 30 port truck drivers at Green Fleet Systems (GFS) who went on strike. We are striking to protest harassment and intimidation by Green Fleet management in our efforts to form a union at our workplace and we will be out for 24 hours. You have probably never heard of Green Fleet, but you certainly know what’s in the containers we haul off the docks of LA and Long Beach: Skechers shoes, Huffy bikes, Black and Decker tools, and many other brands familiar to Americans.

With this strike, we are kicking off a period of labor unrest by low-wage non-union workers, many of us immigrants. Workers across the country are fed up and we are rising up to demand dignity and respect.  In Los Angeles, port drivers are defending our right to fight for respect and a fair wage, a right that is protected under the law – a law that Green Fleet has broken.

But Green Fleet is not the only one breaking the law at the ports – this is how the low-wage port trucking industry is run in LA and around the country.  There are a few port trucking companies with actual employees like Green Fleet, and when those drivers try to form a union, their rights under Federal labor law are frequently violated. But most port trucking companies illegally use misclassified independent contractors to carry their loads. These companies, as demonstrated by numerous findings by the California Labor Commissioner, owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay to drivers – and the figure is growing by the hour.

Even Green Fleet plays this game of classifying employees as “independent contractors,” and they’ve gotten in a lot of trouble for it.  In 2011, four former GFS drivers who were misclassified as “independent contractors” filed claims with the California Labor Commissioner’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) for wage theft. A year later, the Labor Commissioner awarded them a combined $280,882 in wages owed due to illegal deductions for about a year and a half of work each, plus interest and penalties (GFS filed appeals in all four cases, after requesting that the court waive its own rules requiring that appellants post bond in the amount of the awards, because the company could not come up with the full $280,882.22). More claims have recently been filed.

I have been a port truck driver for 13 years and during my time as a driver, I have seen how the port trucking industry really works. Port drivers like me are often kept at low wages with few benefits, while port trucking companies and big box retail stores like Walmart keep most of the money for themselves. The hard work that is done by me and my coworkers often goes unnoticed. Our lives and working conditions are invisible to most people unless they happen to be driving next to us on the freeway. I’m sure you don’t think of us when you buy a pair of Skechers, a new tool at Home Depot, or a bike for your child at Target. This is the stuff we haul every day – and we can’t afford it for ourselves or our own children…

Ramon Guadamoz

Please join us as we bring our 24-hour strike to a close. We will be rallying with a large number of drivers, other union members, elected officials, community allies, and faith leaders at the GFS warehouse in Carson starting at 3:30 PM. Congresswoman Janice Hahn, LA County Federation of Labor’s Maria Elena Durazo, and CLUE’s Rabbi Jonathan Klein are just a few of the many powerful allies who will be joining us – you should too! Click here for a downloadable flyer for the event.

Ramon Guadamoz
Driver, Green Fleet Systems

Monday, 26 August 2013

justice at the ports

Published by the LA Progressive on August 26, 2013
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