Congress, California introduce legislation tackling trucker classification, port labor unrest

Some California port truckers have struck in recent months over their employment status as independent contractors instead of company employees, which they say institutes ongoing wage theft.Some California port truckers have struck in recent months over their employment status as independent contractors instead of company employees, which they say institutes ongoing wage theft.

U.S. lawmakers are considering ways to prevent prolonged port labor disputes, while California lawmakers are evaluating a bill regarding misclassification of port truckers in its state.

Recently, West Coast port productivity slowed dramatically during the final months of nearly a year’s worth of contract negotiations between employers and union dockworkers. After the two sides reached tentative agreement in February, Republican Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and John Thune of South Dakota introduced bills to ward off extended disruptions that could result from future disputes.

Gardner’s Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act would let state governors, not just the president, begin the federal Taft-Hartley’s process when a port labor dispute causes economic harm. After a governor calls a board of inquiry and it reports, that governor could petition federal courts to enjoin port slowdowns, strikes, or lockouts.

The Senate labor committee received the PORTS Act (S. 1519) June 5, after the chamber’s transportation committee discharged the bill last month.

Thune, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, introduced legislation to establish port performance measures and a related statistics program. It would consider performance indicators in the top 25 U.S. 25 ports, which would include the average truck wait time and total average time truckers spend at ports.

The International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents port dockworkers in Atlantic and Gulf Coasts ports, opposes portions of S. 1298. The union says it would improperly mandate collection of port performance data that would affect maritime labor negotiations and misuse statistics in collective bargaining disputes.

The bill was referred to committee May 12.

Meanwhile in California, a Teamsters-sponsored bill is moving through the Senate that would establish a port drayage company amnesty program. AB 621 would allow port trucking companies to voluntarily enter a consent decree with the state when it misclassifies employee truckers as independent contractors.

It would relieve these companies of liability for statutory or civil penalties associated with misclassification if the decree is made with the state before 2017. The carrier would have to agree to reclassify all of its truckers as employees and pay any wages, benefits and taxes owed.

The legislation would allow the California Labor Commissioner to recover costs from the carrier associated with the consent decree.

The California Trucking Association and other bill opponents say the proposal does not address misclassification’s greater underlying issues. Lawmakers should find a solution within existing enforcement mechanisms, according to a June 22 Senate labor committee analysis.

The bill passed by an unofficial vote of 47-29 on the Senate floor June 3.

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