Despite attempts over the past decade by the Teamsters union to convince drayage companies that the entire industry would benefit if drivers were hired as direct employees, the majority of drivers wish to remain independent, according to a drayage company president in Southern California.
Vic LaRosa, president of TTSI, estimated that 80 percent of the drivers he deals with at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach prefer to own and operate their trucks rather than to be direct employees of a drayage company.
The Teamsters union has implemented various strategies in its attempt to organize the estimated 100,000 drayage truck drivers at U.S. seaports. A key component of the union’s strategy is to push the industry back to the employee driver model that was in effect until the trucking industry was deregulated in 1980.
Unions, by law, cannot organize independent contractors, but they can organize companies with direct employees.
The employee driver issue was at the heart of a 2008 lawsuit filed by the American Trucking Associations challenging various requirements in the Port of Los Angeles clean trucks program, including a requirement that harbor trucking companies hire drivers as direct employees.
The case was settled in July after the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that state and local entities cannot regulate motor carriers engaged in interstate commerce.
As an indication that drivers at most ports prefer to be independent businesspersons, LaRosa told a conference of the Transportation Lawyers Association Friday in Los Angeles that in many cities hundreds of employee driver positions go unfilled.
Although the employee driver model is seen infrequently at seaports, many retailers, grocery store chains and manufacturers have employee drivers who drive company-owned trucks. Owner-operators in those port cities could apply for those positions, but most prefer to remain independent, LaRosa said.
In fact, there is a nationwide driving shortage in many areas of trucking, including over-the-road trucking where the employee driver model is more common, he said.
Ever since trucking deregulation, most harbor drayage companies have found that the costs associated with unionized, employee drivers make it impossible to compete in the cutthroat harbor trucking industry. While increased wages are a factor, loss of productivity is the main obstacle to having employee drivers, LaRosa said.
TTSI for a period attempted to operate some trucks with employee drivers provided by temp agencies, but the company ended up losing $1 million because of a drop in productivity, he said.
Long Beach attorney Cameron Roberts said the ruling in the ATA vs. Port of Los Angeles case has “broad, sweeping implications for every port in the U.S. that seeks to enlarge its footprint.”
Nevertheless, the Teamsters as well as individual attorneys in a number of cities continue to pursue the goal of organizing harbor truckers, with the filing of misclassification suits currently being the preferred strategy, the speakers noted.