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News :: Labor
Los Angeles Port Truck Drivers Are On Strike
13 Jul 2014
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Drivers for three of the largest companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began an “indefinite strike” this week, claiming that they often make below minimum wage and that they have been unfairly labeled as independent contractors, which prevents them from unionizing.

On Monday, roughly 120 out of 400 registered truckers were said to be on strike.

Tim Linden reports at The Produce News:


The effect of the trucker strike on the movement of cargo around the port complex of the adjacent Long Beach and Los Angeles ports was initially minimal, but the threat grew larger Wednesday morning after the drivers set up picket lines outside two of the main port terminals.

Initially, dock workers honored those picket lines; however, almost immediately an arbitrator ruled that members of the International Long Shore Workers Union must return to work because of that group’s earlier agreement with the ports. The ILWU and port officials have been in labor negotiations continuously since before their latest contract expired on July 1. On July 7, the two sides agreed to a 72-hour hiatus as ILWU officials tended to an unrelated matter in the Pacific Northwest.

There has been a news blackout on those negotiations, which are scheduled to resume on July 11. If the ILWU members go on strike major disruptions could occur at all 13 West Coast ports. If they honor the truck driver strike in the two Los Angeles area ports, movement of cargo from those two ports could be severely hampered.

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L.A. port truckers strike; dock worker talks on hold
by Tim Linden | July 09, 2014
Some drivers for three of the largest drayage companies serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began “an indefinite strike” on Monday, July 7, as dock worker officials took a three-day hiatus in their negotiations with West Coast port officials on a new labor contract.

The effect of the trucker strike on the movement of cargo around the port complex of the adjacent Long Beach and Los Angeles ports was initially minimal, but the threat grew larger Wednesday morning after the drivers set up picket lines outside two of the main port terminals.

Initially, dock workers honored those picket lines; however, almost immediately an arbitrator ruled that members of the International Long Shore Workers Union must return to work because of that group’s earlier agreement with the ports. The ILWU and port officials have been in labor negotiations continuously since before their latest contract expired on July 1. On July 7, the two sides agreed to a 72-hour hiatus as ILWU officials tended to an unrelated matter in the Pacific Northwest.

There has been a news blackout on those negotiations, which are scheduled to resume on July 11. If the ILWU members go on strike major disruptions could occur at all 13 West Coast ports. If they honor the truck driver strike in the two Los Angeles area ports, movement of cargo from those two ports could be severely hampered.

The truckers are striking because they believe they have been unfairly labeled independent contractors, which has prevented them from unionizing as employees of the three largest area drayage companies. The truckers argue that their pay is often below minimum wage. They have filed lawsuits and complaints with state and federal labor agencies to change their status.

On Monday about 120 of the 400 registered truckers were estimated to be on strike.


http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/los_angles_port_truckers_are

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Anti-Union "Socialists" Report in WSWS
14 Jul 2014
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Teamsters shut down truckers strike at southern California ports

By Gabriel Black
14 July 2014

Truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will return to work today after the Teamsters union shut down a largely ceremonial five-day strike by 150 drivers at the two Southern California harbors on Saturday. The deal, which was brokered by Los Angeles’ Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti, will do nothing to address the servitude-like conditions port drivers face.

Announcing the deal, Garcetti said, “Following the city’s meetings with both sides, the Teamsters have agreed to pull down their pickets and enter a cooling off period to allow the harbor commission time to investigate the serious allegations regarding worker safety, poor working conditions and unfair labor practices. Business at the port is back to normal, and the city will facilitate a dialogue among the parties in the weeks ahead.”

Almost 40 percent of the nation’s imports come through these ports and a strike that shut them down would have had significant economic impact, likely prompting intervention by the Obama administration. From the beginning, however, the Teamsters limited the action to picketing just three firms—Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI), Pacific 9 Transportation, and Green Fleet Systems—which represent only four percent of the total registered trucks at the ports.

The struggle was further isolated by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which did everything to block a unified struggle by truckers and 20,000 dockworkers at West Coast ports who have been working without a contract since July 1. On Tuesday, July 8, dockworkers honored the truckers’ picket lines, essentially shutting down the ports. Behind the scenes, however, the ILWU and Port Authorities agreed to a three-day extension of the expired contract, which includes a no-strike pledge. This enabled an arbitrator to force dockworkers back to work, saying their solidarity action was a violation of their “contract.”

Port trucker drivers face a real fight. Transport companies classify them as self-employed “independent contractors” instead of “employees” in order to dump the costs of fuel, truck maintenance and repair on the drivers. By the time they pay all of these deductions—plus the cost of leasing their trucks—workers have little left in their paychecks. Moreover, the companies are not required to pay Social Security, pensions, unemployment or workers’ compensation insurance for “independent contractors,” nor do they have to abide by federal wage and hour laws that cover employees.

The average container yields a worker $48, but that single container can sometimes take up to seven, eight, nine, or ten hours to deliver. Workers end up driving six days a week for more than 10 hours a day to make ends meet. In some cases paychecks are negative because a worker was only able to deliver one container, and costs far outweighed their compensation. Generally paychecks are irregular for these workers—many of whom are immigrants—and they receive between $200 and $800 a week, depending on their assignment and maintenance costs.

Roughly 80 percent of US port truckers are misclassified in a similar fashion, according to studies. The Teamsters web site notes, “With trucking deregulation 30 years ago, a shadowy network of contract trucking companies that illegally classify their company drivers as ‘independent contractors’ was born. Port trucking wages alone fell 30 percent from 1980, when independent contracting was rare, to 1995 when it was dominant.”

Trucking, as well as airline, deregulation, however, was spearheaded by former US Senator Edward Kennedy and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter—both icons of the Democratic Party, which the Teamsters promote as friends of labor. Over the last three-and-a-half decades, the Teamsters have responded to the expansion of non-union trucking companies by signing contracts seeking to give unionized employers a cost advantage. That has led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and wage and benefit cuts that have produced the miserable conditions truckers face today.

The main concern of the Teamsters union executives is that the classification of truckers as “independent contractors” blocks them from “organizing” port truckers and collecting dues.

Union officials are seeking the assistance of the Democratic Party to augment their revenue, while pledging to suppress any struggle by workers that would undermine the profit interests of corporate America.

Last week, WSWS reporters went to the Evergreen terminal at the port of Los Angeles where a group of 20 to 25 picketers gathered. Under the instruction of Teamsters officials, the strikers were allowed to block traffic for two or three minutes at a time and then allow ten to twelve trucks to come in and out of the terminal. This demoralizing exercise was repeated again and again at what was supposed to be the major site of the strike.

Alex and Agustin, two striking workers, spoke with the WSWS. Agustin explained the three companies “violate our rights as workers” by misclassifying them as self-employed contractors. This practice, Alex explained, makes workers responsible for costs, leaving workers with “very little for ourselves.”

Alex said the company was trying to divide workers for the past 16 months. “They have hired undercover union-busters that have threatened the drivers. One driver was actually threatened with his life.” He noted that the company had ceased firing workers for the time being because of their unfair labor practice suits. However, he said retaliation continued within the workplace, with those opposing unionization efforts getting the easiest routes and always having work.

When our reporter asked Alex and Agustin about the impact of the picket lines on the ILWU, the Teamsters picket captain, who had been listening in on the conversation, interjected and said “we do not know anything about that … you have to speak to them.”

After the two striking workers left, the remaining pickets were largely various union officials, particularly from the SEIU and the IBT. When WSWS reporters asked them about the isolated nature of the action, officials said the truck workers’ struggle had nothing to do with the ILWU.

The WSWS also spoke to Tonio and Aristides, both of whom had previously been truck drivers at the port. Tonio explained wages in the 1980’s were much higher than they are now, noting that employers had pushed drivers into a “race to the bottom.”

Aristides, another ex-port truck driver, worked for TTSI before being fired in 2009. He told the WSWS, “Previous to 2008 there were no lease drivers and no hourly drivers in these companies. Containers and other cargo were moved out of the port by owner-operators (people who owned their tractor trucks and contracted their services to the terminals).”

In 2008, the employers mandated that the nominally independent truck drivers switch over to newer trucks because of new environmental regulations. The first five new trucks at TTSI were purchased by the company and then fully sold to the workers.

Aristides continued, “By 2009, however, the terms had been changed and former owner operators had to lease the trucks, pay maintenance costs, tires, fuel. They even had to pay to park the trucks at the terminals.

“When in 2009 I denounced the new leases, for violating the original agreement, I was fired for being a ‘rotten apple.’”

When our reporter drew attention to the limited, isolated, character of the strike, Aristides agreed, saying, “The way things are going nothing will be gained. The strikers are following a protocol by stopping truck traffic only a few minutes at a time. I am sure this was agreed upon by the Teamsters, the police, and maybe the terminals.”

The shutting down of the port strike—the fourth similarly limited action called by the Teamsters this year—only underscores the fact that there is no way forward for truckers to improve their conditions if their struggle is left in the hands of pro-company unions, which are directly tied to the Democratic Party and the profit system they defend. Only the development of a mass, independent, movement of the working class to overthrow the economic and political dictatorship of the banks and big business can ensure that the basic social rights of the working class.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/14/port-j14.html
Labor Union Tactics
14 Jul 2014
Who Will Survive?

The Union vs. Corporate Showdown Has Officially Begun

by SHAMUS COOKE


The attack on the U.S. labor movement just sharpened with the Harris vs. Quinn Supreme Court decision, aimed at the heart of concentrated union power — public sector unions. When you add in the Obama-led assault on public school teachers unions and the Koch brother-funded “Right to Work” laws, the labor movement appears to be facing imminent ruin.

At the same time, however, a powerful counter-force has emerged: the union movement has won significant victories around the fight for $15 minimum wage in Seattle and Los Angeles, and is poised to win in San Francisco where the strongest measure yet is headed for the November ballot. These wins and prospective wins have sent shock waves through the country, showing what’s possible if unions and community groups take the initiative and focus on inspiring demands that resonate through the broader community.

The 2012 the Chicago teachers’ strike set an equally powerful example for unions, which has been studied by unionists across the country. Chicago teachers re-taught the labor movement the importance of the strike and the prerequisite internal democratic organization of union members. Once organized internally, members rallied community groups and the broader population over popular demands like stopping school closures.

These advances for unions in the face of intensifying corporate attacks are forcing labor relations to a crescendo. Organized labor has, at long last, realized that fighting back is their only salvation. The tension inherent in this dynamic is volatile, and will inevitably explode as corporations relentlessly attempt to boost profits at the expense of workers’ wages and benefits.

The above examples of labor’s involvement in the ‘Fight for $15’ and the Chicago teachers’ strike encapsulates all that unions need to do to re-gain their lost status as organizations that represent the broader working class, as they did to a significant extent in the 1930s, the 1940s, and the 1950s. The strategy is simple: workers inside unions need to be organized and inspired sufficiently to be able to strike, if necessary, while simultaneously fighting for demands for the broader community, like the $15 minimum wage.

Unions do not need flashy gimmicks or to re-invent the wheel. Of course, technological advances must be used while new demands and creative forms of protest should be experimented with, but Twitter and Facebook cannot replace face-to-face organizing and collective action, only complement it.

For years union leaders convinced themselves that “strikes don’t work,” based on the many that were misled and then lost. Instead union leaders searched in vain for labor’s equivalent to the philosopher’s stone, that magic “something” that would save the labor movement if only it were discovered. Since nothing “new” was discovered, in practice union leaders resorted to making backroom concessionary deals with politicians and corporations, and labor’s power slid further into the mire.

And while many unions seem intent on breaking out of this organizational-political straitjacket, others seem suicidally comfortable repeating the same failed tactics.

For example, there is no reason that organized labor should not immediately put the $15 minimum wage up for a statewide referendum in all 24 states that have the ballot initiative process. The ballot initiative should also be used to raise taxes on the rich and corporations so that cuts to services and education can be prevented and reversed, and to create more public sector jobs building roads, fixing infrastructure, etc.

The only reason this isn’t being done everywhere is because some labor leaders still have a “partnership” with Democratic politicians who are adamantly against the $15 minimum wage, not to mention opposing taxing the rich and corporations. These labor leaders still believe, delusionally, that they can get more from politicians than they could get by going over their heads, directly to voters.

An additional barrier that unions need to overcome in utilizing the full strength of the ballot initiative is the idea of using ballot measures as bargaining chips, where unions use the threat of progressive ballot initiatives to pressure politicians to make union-specific concessions.

For example, in Oregon SEIU filed for progressive taxation ballot measures that were later withdrawn, ostensibly in exchange for the right wing to drop their Right to Work initiative, a “deal” which was brokered by a Democratic governor.

This union “strategy” was also mentioned by the president of the United Healthcare Workers of SEIU, Dave Regan, in his “Live Better Together” proposal for the labor movement.

And while Regan’s proposal contains many good ideas, the “ballot initiative as bargaining chip” isn’t one of them. The anti-union Bloomberg website made several good points in attacking the tactic:

“…But, of course, this strategy is not free for the SEIU, either; you can spend a lot of money on fake initiatives, have your bluff called, and end up with no money and no more members.”

More importantly, using populist ballot initiatives as bargaining chips unfairly raise expectations for the broader community, which then gets upset when the initiatives are removed in exchange for something that appears to benefit union members only, as was done in Oregon. Lastly, fake ballot initiatives do not mobilize union members or the community at large, and resorting to backroom dealing with politicians inspires nobody.

The years of bad habits that unions have accumulated can be shed quickly, but not if the process is done bureaucratically, behind closed doors and without the involvement of rank-and-file members and community allies. Most unions still have a long way to go to actively engage their memberships like the Chicago teachers have done. But without the buy-in from rank-and-file members, a union is a paper tiger in a time where the real thing is needed.

Ultimately a union without an actively engaged membership that fails to connect with the broader community will not survive the corporate onslaught. And any labor leader that stops the process of internal union democratization and external community mobilization is destined to be exposed as incompetent, unable to lead labor out of this period of crisis.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke (at) gmail.com