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Los Angeles port truckers win misclassification case

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that a Los Angeles-area company violated labor laws. Truck drivers accused Pacific 9 Transportation, a freight-hauling business, of misclassification of employees as independent contractors and harassing workers who even talk about unionizing.

The ruling on misclassification was particularly significant. The drivers who work for Pacific 9, like other port truckers who transport goods from California ports to distribution centers and warehouses, are often classified by companies as independent contractors rather than employees. It has been estimated by groups backing the truckers in their complaint that about two-thirds of the 75,000 port truck drivers in the country are misclassified. Companies can save a great deal of money by categorizing full-time employees as independent contractors -- nearly $4,000 per employee according to the Treasury Department. They save money by not having to adhere to minimum wage laws and are not responsible for payroll taxes.

The March 20 ruling that the truck drivers are employees rather than contractors means that the workers get the protection of federal labor laws and that the NLRB has the authority to rule on the workers' other grievances about unfair labor practices. The board also ruled that Pacific 9 cannot prevent these drivers from discussing unionization, as drivers accused the company of doing last fall.

This ruling opens up the potential for other complaints regarding wage and other issues from drivers who have not been allowed to bring them previously, both here in California and around the country. As an advocacy group for port drivers noted after the decision, it could lead to "reshaping a structure that currently leaves many of America's port drivers working full time yet earning less than minimum wage."

Employment laws can be complicated. Workers should not always assume that their employer is following the law. Even if they aren't intentionally acting illegally, they may be doing so unwittingly. Employees who believe that they are not being treated or paid appropriately as designated by state and federal laws can consult with an experienced California employment attorney to help determine what action, if any, they can take.

Source: Think Progress, "Truck Drivers Handed Labor Victory That Could Reshape The Industry" Alan Pyke, Mar. 21, 2014

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