Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Truckers too often are in a rigged game, living a life of indentured servitude

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Brett Murphy reports in USA Today:

Samuel Talavera Jr. did everything his bosses asked.

Most days, the trucker would drive more than 16 hours straight hauling LG dishwashers and Kumho tires to warehouses around Los Angeles, on their way to retail stores nationwide.

He rarely went home to his family. At night, he crawled into the back of his cab and slept in the company parking lot.

For all of that, he took home as little as 67 cents a week.

Then, in October 2013, the truck he leased from his employer, QTS, broke down.

When Talavera could not afford repairs, the company fired him and seized the truck — along with $78,000 he had paid towards owning it.

Talavera was a modern-day indentured servant. And there are hundreds, likely thousands more, still on the road, hauling containers for trucking companies that move goods for America’s most beloved retailers, from Costco to Target to Home Depot.

These port truckers — many of them poor immigrants who speak little English — are responsible for moving almost half of the nation’s container imports out of Los Angeles’ ports. They don’t deliver goods to stores. Instead they drive them short distances to warehouses and rail yards, one small step on their journey to a store near you.

A yearlong investigation by the USA TODAY Network found that port trucking companies in southern California have spent the past decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford. Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute.

If a driver quit, the company seized his truck and kept everything he had paid towards owning it.

If drivers missed payments, or if they got sick or became too exhausted to go on, their companies fired them and kept everything. Then they turned around and leased the trucks to someone else.

Drivers who manage to hang on to their jobs sometimes end up owing money to their employers – essentially working for free. Reporters identified seven different companies that have told their employees they owe money at week’s end.

The USA TODAY Network pieced together accounts from more than 300 drivers, listened to hundreds of hours of sworn labor dispute testimony and reviewed contracts that have never been seen by the public.

Using the contracts, submitted as evidence in labor complaints, and shipping manifests, reporters matched the trucking companies with the most labor violations to dozens of retail brands, including Target, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Hasbro, J.Crew, UPS, Goodyear, Costco, Ralph Lauren and more.

Among the findings:

  • Trucking companies force drivers to work against their will – up to 20 hours a day – by threatening to take their trucks and keep the money they paid toward buying them. Bosses create a culture of fear by firing drivers, suspending them without pay or reassigning them the lowest-paying routes.
  • To keep drivers working, managers at a few companies have physically barred them from going home. More than once, Marvin Figueroa returned from a full day’s work to find the gate to the parking lot locked and a manager ordering drivers back to work. “That was how they forced me to continue working,” he testified in a 2015 labor case. Truckers at two other companies have made similar claims.
  • Employers charge not just for truck leases but for a host of other expenses, including hundreds of dollars a month for insurance and diesel fuel. Some charge truckers a parking fee to use the company lot. One company, Fargo Trucking, charged $2 per week for the office toilet paper and other supplies.
  • Drivers at many companies say they had no choice but to break federal safety laws that limit truckers to 11 hours on the road each day. Drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation testified that their managers dispatched truckers up to 20 hours a day, then wouldn’t pay them until drivers falsified inspection reports that track hours. Hundreds of California port truckers have gotten into accidents, leading to more than 20 fatalities from 2013 to 2015, according to the USA TODAY Network’s analysis of federal crash and port trade data.
  • Many drivers thought they were paying into their truck like a mortgage. Instead, when they lost their job, they discovered they also lost their truck, along with everything they’d paid toward it. Eddy Gonzalez took seven days off to care for his dying mother and then bury her. When he came back, his company fired him and kept the truck. For two years, Ho Lee was charged more than $1,600 a month for a truck lease. When he got ill and missed a week of work, he lost the truck and everything he’d paid.
  • Retailers could refuse to allow companies with labor violations to truck their goods. Instead they’ve let shipping and logistics contractors hire the lowest bidder, while lobbying on behalf of trucking companies in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Walmart, Target and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies have paid lobbyists up to $12.6 million to fight bills that would have held companies liable or given drivers a minimum wage and other protections that most U.S. workers already enjoy.

This isn’t a case of a few bad trucking companies accused of mistreating a handful of workers.

Since 2010, at least 1,150 port truck drivers have filed claims in civil court or with the California Department of Industrial Relations’ enforcement arm, known as the labor commission.

Judges have sided with drivers in more than 97% of the cases heard, ruling time after time that port truckers in California can’t legally be classified as independent contractors. Instead, they are employees who, by law, must be paid minimum wage and can’t be charged for the equipment they use at work.

The rulings stop there. They do not address specific allegations of abuse by drivers, including whether trucking companies physically barred them from leaving work or ordered them to work past federal fatigue limits.

But allegations like those have been made in sworn testimony in hundreds of the cases, virtually all of which ended with trucking companies ordered to repay drivers for truck expenses and lost wages. The USA TODAY Network found that at least 140 trucking companies have been accused by at least one driver of shorting them of fair pay or using threats to squeeze them to work longer hours. . .

Continue reading.

And it’s important to note that within a decade most of these jobs, bad as they are, will be gone, the work done by autonomous vehicles.

Something is seriously wrong with capitalism. Although capitalism does perhaps foster innovation (including, unfortunately, meaningless innovation and superficial variation), it lacks any sort of moral concern for employees or the public or the environment: its sole focus—maximizing profits—turns out to be insufficient to create a good life for too many (even though that is its primary claim to fame). The “good life” created by the hypercompetitive capitalism common today requires that one ignore many of the effects and products of capitalism.

Do read the rest of the article. It describes the dark underside of the American Way of Life. Put yourself in Sam Talavera’s shoes. What would you do? Work smarter not harder? Think outside the box? Do more with less?

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2017 at 8:34 am

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