Study: Independent truckers need a NELPing hand

LOS ANGELES – Big labor has stepped up its campaign to convert independent container haulers into company drivers with the release of a study that claims most port owner-ops are misclassified employees.

The study — published by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a pro-union labor advocacy group — is based on interviews with about 2,000 drivers at seven major ports in the U.S.

Overwhelmingly partisan in tone, the study alleges that most independent drayage drivers work up to 60 hours a week for "poverty-level wages."

The owner-ops also lack the autonomy "that is the hallmark of an independent businessperson under federal law," according to NELP. "Trucking companies determine how, when, where, and in what sequence drivers work. They impose truck inspections, drug tests, and stringent reporting requirements. Drivers’ behavior is regularly monitored, evaluated, and disciplined.

"Given the absence of oversight at the nation’s ports, drivers in the port trucking industry are highly vulnerable to misclassification," the stud says.

Of course, the study avoids mentioning that much of that oversight is mandated by federal transportation safety regulations.

The study is part of a union-led movement to reclassify independent truckers at shipping ports as company drivers – ideally, unionized ones.

Unions in the U.S. have joined environmental advocates in pushing for laws that ban owner-ops with older equipment at the ports.

In Canada, the government has mandated that independent drivers be treated and paid like employee union drivers in order to bury labor tension at the Port of Vancouver.

Other highlights of the NELP study:

Drivers usually work for one trucking company at a time and "do not offer services to the general public, and are entirely dependent on that company for work."

Drivers "work for years for the same company; use company signs and permits; represent themselves to others as being from the company; and rarely offer their work independently of the company."

Like "other low-wage employees drivers’ only means for increasing their earnings is to work longer hours. "

Through independent contracting agreements, "trucking companies make" independent truckers responsible for all truck-related expenses.

Independent contractors reported average net incomes 18 percent lower than employee drivers; and they were two-and-a-half times less likely than employee drivers to have health insurance.

(The survey, however, doesn’t appear to ask the drivers why they chose to buy their own equipment and haul containers rather than become a company driver in another sector).  

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