Misclassified workers granted more protections against fly-by-night employers

(Holding others liable for payment of wages)

CALIFORNIA’S Labor Commissioner’s Office has awarded over $45 million in unlawful deductions from wages and out-of-pocket expenses to more than 400 misclassified port drivers. However, most of the drivers have not been able to collect their money because the companies that committed the wage violations have filed bankruptcy and gone out of business, only to be replaced by other companies that repeat the same pattern of misclassification.

Truck drivers at California ports, mostly immigrant and vulnerable to labor exploitation, are often misclassified as independent contractors even though they work as employees under California and federal labor laws. These companies control the manner and means of the work, set wages and hours, and in other ways act as an employer to these drivers. The rampant misclassification of drivers contributes to wage theft and leaves drivers in a cycle of poverty.

A common practice is for a trucking company to enter into a sublease agreement with drivers, with the promise that they will own the truck someday. Drivers can be terminated at any time and lose the money they thought they were paying toward the truck. Companies deduct money from driver paychecks for business expenses that lead drivers to earn poverty wages.

Nearly half of United States shipping-container traffic flows through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Port drivers are a critical link in the global supply chain and they need to share the benefits of this economic engine. The companies that own the containers being transported by these drivers are some of the world’s largest retail and manufacturing companies. By now, these companies should be aware of the widespread labor violations in the port trucking industry.

States may enforce labor laws meant to protect drivers from wage theft. In order to do so, California recently enacted into law certain measures to hold retailing and manufacturing companies that use the port trucking system accountable.

Business entities that are provided workers from subcontractors can be jointly liable for the nonpayment of wages and failure to provide unemployment insurance by the subcontractor. This means the retailing and manufacturing companies that are the customers of trucking companies will have to pay these unpaid wages and other benefits should the trucking company they employed folds up and leave the drivers uncompensated.

Holding customers of trucking companies jointly liable for labor law violations by port trucking carriers they hire will, hopefully, exert pressure across the supply chain to protect port truck drivers from further exploitation.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com or our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award for 2016.]

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