A Los Angeles City Council committee moved Tuesday to veto a proposed permit for a large warehouse owned by a major trucking company at the Port of Los Angeles and ask the Harbor Department to draft a new one that could avoid labor strife between the owners and workers.
The Trade, Travel and Tourism Committee’d recommended veto of the proposed permit for California Transload Services comes as some drivers and warehouse workers who work for its parent company, NFI Industries, and another port company are on a temporary strike set to end Wednesday.
At the request of Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the port area, the City Council last week voted to asserts its jurisdiction over a decision by the civilian board that oversees the port to grant the permit to NFI Industries for its facility at 2401 E. Pacific Coast Highway.
“The ongoing disruptions I feel continue to reflect on our operations and in general, I don’t know how this is any different than other work stoppages and work slowdowns at the port complex,” Buscaino said. “So there is no way in good conscience I can support the commission’s recommendations. So why not have both parties come to the table and figure this out, because we will continue to hear the testimony, and we will continue to see these strikes and work stoppages at his site.”
The move is one of a series taken lately by Los Angeles city leaders as they seek to pressure trucking and warehouse companies at the port to stop classifying drivers as independent contractors. Some drivers and unions have been arguing for years that labeling them contractors is a scheme to deny them just compensation and benefits.
The issue of companies at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach classifying drivers as independent contractors has been a focal point of 15 strikes at the port in the last four years; the current strike is the 16th.
The truckers maintain they are improperly classified as independent contractors by companies at the port in a scheme that deprives them of benefits and job protections while increasing their overhead costs by forcing them to lease their trucks from the companies for which they drive.
According to a USA Tuesday investigative report published in June 2017, there are around 800 companies regularly operating at the L.A. ports, and almost all of them turned to some form of a lease-to-own trucking model after California banned older trucks from entering the ports in 2008.
Since the USA Tuesday investigation, L.A. leaders have been putting more pressure on companies to change their business practices.
In January, City Attorney Mike Feuer sued three Port of Los Angeles trucking companies over their practice of classifying truck drivers as independent contractors, alleging it bilked them out of fair pay and benefits while also shifting operating costs onto their shoulders. The lawsuits were brought against CMI Transportation LLC, K&R Transportation California LLC and Cal Cartage Transportation Express LLC. All three of the companies were owned by Cal Carthage until last October, when they were sold to NFI Industries.
The City Council also voted in December 2017 to explore banning companies that use the practice of independent contractors from the port.
The strike this week involves some drivers and warehouse workers for NFI and another company, XPO Logistics. Through its Justice for Port Drivers campaign, the Teamsters union said that XPO has 280 drivers working at the L.A. and Long Beach ports, and that NFI has 600 drivers and 500 warehouse workers.
Workers from NFI spoke at the meeting, with some speaking in favor of it and others calling it out for what they said are unfair business practices, as well as unsafe working conditions.
NFI managers asserted they treat their workers well and the conditions at the site are safe.
David Garcia, general manager of NFI, said that a recent vote by the company’s employees to unionize failed by about 2-1.
“We have a pretty good work environment. It’s a nice place to work,” Garcia said, adding that the number of workers on strike from the company this week totals about 20 to 25.
Fred Potter, vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and director of the Teamsters’ Port Division, countered that the reason the strike vote failed was because NFI had intimidated its workers.
Potter said the union would continue to organize strikes as long as NFI “doesn’t recognize the rights of the workers, as long they continue to discriminate against them for their activities with the union.”
Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said the proposed permit is a 30-day revokable permit that could go on for years, but could be revoked at any time if the city needs access to the facility for work on an environmental impact report in relation to the Southern California International Gateway project.