State Sen. Ricardo Lara introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1402 on April 11 to end “rampant exploitation” of truck drivers at California ports by calling out trucking companies with records of state labor and employment law violations, and penalizing retailers that utilize them.
If passed, SB 1402 would create a list of trucking companies with unpaid final judgments for labor violations. Retailers and other companies who later hire a listed trucking company directly or through a third party would be jointly liable for future violations by the trucking company.
“Port truckers are driving the global economy and delivering for the biggest brands, but they can barely afford to buy clothes for their families,” Lara said in a statement. “These used to be good jobs, and they can be good jobs again if retailers join us in improving labor conditions here in California and putting dignity back in the driver’s seat.”
In a press release, Lara listed examples of trucker exploitation, including companies forcing drivers to take on debt by financing their own trucks, which he said has led to situations where drivers actually owe money during some pay periods; lawsuits against companies by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, which has won more than $45 million for more than 400 drivers; the misclassification of drivers as independent contractors rather than employees; and the fact that drivers are largely an immigrant workforce, making them more vulnerable to exploitation.
The bill is sponsored by the Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the California Labor Federation. It has also been endorsed by the mayors representing the state’s three largest ports – Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
“While we have some great trucking companies working at the ports, we need to fix our system to make sure all truckers are treated fairly,” Garcia said in a press release. “We need to raise standards, and wages, in the industry while increasing efficiency to make sure our ports continue to be engines of growth.”
Groups such as the California Trucking Association (CTA) and the Harbor Trucking Association have come out in opposition of the bill. According to the CTA, the fact that companies whose workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement are exempt from the bill’s implications proves it is a way to push out independent drivers.
“In the past, the backers of this bill tried to outright ban small-business, owner-operator truckers from working at the ports,” CTA CEO Shawn Yadon said in a statement. “Their actions were unanimously rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now they’re back with SB 1402, which uses other means to accomplish the same goal.”
The country is experiencing a shortage of truck drivers, with numerous companies offering steady employment and 350,000 drivers opting to drive independently, according to the CTA. The association said many choose to become an independent driver because of the freedom and flexibility it allows, including setting their own schedules and managing their workload.
Weston LaBar, CEO of the HTA, provided the Business Journal with the following statement:
“We have serious concerns as to the intent of SB 1402. This shows yet another disconnect between an elected official and how our industry works. The majority of truckers in the port are independent contractors because they prefer to be independent contractors due to the opportunity it provides them. Yet, this bill would penalize a company if one driver feels misclassified even if hundreds of other drivers prefer their status as independent with that same company. It is time that California’s elected leaders actually attempt to learn about this industry and hear from the thousands of drivers that want to remain independent, as opposed to carrying through the political will of organized labor.”
According to Lara’s office, SB 1402 is scheduled to go before the Judiciary Committee today, April 24, and the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on April 25.