California Ports Strike Again

by Jana Ritter - Published: 8/27/2013

At least 15 port truck drivers with a California based trucking firm went on a 24-hour strike scheduled to culminate in a Tuesday rally. The action against the company, Green Fleet Systems, began late Monday when truck drivers and their supporters picketed outside the company's Carson facility. Truckers contend that company supervisors have been illegally dissuading them from joining a union — an allegation Green Fleet denied. The demonstration kicked off a week of planned actions by labor groups representing workers in a variety of industries, including fast food and logistics.

California strike

It is the latest effort seeking to unionize drivers who move goods in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - the busiest in the nation. "The few trucking companies with bona fide employees like Green Fleet Systems are routinely violating workers' legal right to form a union at their workplace," said Fred Potter, director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' Port Division. "Industry wide change is needed."

For years the Teamsters have pushed to unionize truck drivers at the ports, but it has been difficult because most of these drivers are independent contractors. Some Green Fleet drivers have tried to organize to join Teamsters Local 848 and they allege that the company has hired "union busters" to intimidate drivers out of joining the union. In a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, they allege that a Green Fleet supervisor asked an employee to sign an anti-union petition. A Green Fleet supervisor also promised better pay and a boost in benefits if workers did not join the union, the complaint alleges.

The company on Monday denied the union's allegations and said the rally is the latest in a series of unsuccessful attempts to unionize truck drivers. "What they're trying to do is divide and conquer trucking companies and make false accusations that the majority of drivers want union representation," said Alex Cherin, an attorney with Englander, Knabe and Allen, a Los Angeles law firm representing Green Fleet. "The fact is that Green Fleet ... pays its drivers some of the highest wages in the [trucking] industry," Cherin said.

About 50 supporters of unionizing gathered Monday outside the company's shipping center, and the demonstration became chaotic at times.  While protesters blocking the exit temporarily held up trucks leaving the facility, cars and trucks continually honked in support of the protesters. Among the drivers who went on strike was Agustin Cuevas, 60, who said he and co-workers are fighting for better treatment from their employer and protesting what he called intimidation by hired union busters.

John Husing, an economist who studies the Southern California logistics sector, said labor leaders want to unionize the entire supply-chain system. That would include drivers and warehouse workers. "The big prize is not organizing drivers at ports," Husing said. "It's organizing drivers at ports to give them leverage over all the nonunion warehouses. I suspect that's the deeper issue that's going on here."