Union officials are blaming a “rotten to the core” port trucking system for the country’s perceived truck driver shortage.
Teamster Union officials held an hour long presentation over Zoom on Wednesday, December 8th to discuss supply chain problems over the last year, and they say that the way the trucking system is set up at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is a major part of the problem, reported Daily Breeze.
“The problem is the way the trucking industry in the port area is done,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “It’s being done on the terrible, terrible basis of misclassification.”
Currently, truck drivers serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach can be classified as independent contractors by their companies, meaning the drivers are responsible for their own costs, including fuel and insurance, and get paid nothing for the time they spend waiting to pick up or drop off cargo.
Because of this classification, Hoffa believes that working the ports is not worth it to drivers, so they just don’t show up.
“It’s rotten to the core,” Hoffa said, “and that’s why truckers are not showing up. I don’t blame them.”
“It is high time for taking stock and using this moment with those we have in power to take action to end misclassification, and make sure cargo owners have codes of conduct,” said Attorney Julie Gutman Dickinson, who also participated in the Zoom call.
Hoffa says he has spoken with Matty Walsh, the Biden Administration’s new labor secretary and a former union president, in hopes that something might be done to help fix the classification issue. Additionally, Senate Bill 338, which will go into effect on January 1st, may help the situation by penalizing cargo owners who utilize companies with drivers that are not technically employees.
“It’s a big battle,” Hoffa said. “It’s going to be a battle all the way.”
Despite these arguments, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, Matt Schrap, says that the supply chain issues are far more complicated than a simple misclassification and subsequent mistreatment of truckers.
“Marine terminals are drowning in empty containers,” Schrap said in a telephone interview. “There were 123,000 empties as of this morning,” he continued, adding that there may also be a shortage of chassis, making it impossible for drivers to pick up the full containers, as some of them are being utilized to store these empty containers.
Schrap’s organization represents trucking companies that utilize independent contractor drivers, as well as employee drivers, who are represented by the Teamsters.
“[Truck driving] used to be a respected job,” said Mike Munoz, a research and policy analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which advocates for working families. Now, he says the job is a “race to the bottom,” and even a “sweatshop on wheels.”
“At the bottom of the supply chain are port truck drivers,” he said.
Munoz also points out that wages have declined approximately 30% since the deregulation of the 1980s moved trucking costs “onto the backs of the truck drivers. They have to pay for everything.”
“It’s created a wild west situation. There currently are over 18,000 drivers registered to work in both ports, 12,000 of which make regular-to-infrequent trips. This suggests there is no actual (driver) shortage, but a surplus of drivers,” and a shortage of good trucking jobs.
Still, Schrap argues that many drivers don’t even want to be employees, and value the freedom of deciding when and where to work that comes with being an independent contractor.
“There are many independent contractors who have no desire to be employees,” he said.
“Drivers are in such high demand right now.”