Truck Drivers Clinch New Power with First Union Contract at
Collective Workplace Action Cited as Key to Winning 50% Hourly
Raise, Retirement, and Real Health Care
Triumph over Global Employer Toll Group Fuels Hope for
More U.S. Workers Organizing to End Low Wages, Poor
Conditions in Retail, Food, and Supply Chain
January 9, 2012
The Grim Truth at Toll Group
They did it again, and this time it paid off in a huge way.
L.A's Toll Group drivers, who made national and international
headlines in April by overwhelmingly voting to become
Teamsters, cemented their place in history by ratifying the
first union contract in the drayage industry in 30 years. And
boy is the contract a good one! The agreement is highly
regarded as a standard-setting first union contract, and
viewed as a huge win for any union and a definite game-changer
for U.S. port drivers.
The drivers who haul apparel and merchandise shipped to our
shores for America's brand name stores will kick start 2013
with a contractual raise of more than $6 per hour along with
paid overtime, sick leave and holidays, a far more affordable
health care plan with zero change in coverage, guaranteed
shift hours and other provisions to provide job security -
plus a pension plan.
"Justice...it's sort of an indescribable feeling, but it is
overwhelming and incredible to finally have the American Dream
at our reach," said Jose Ortega Jr., a driver for global
logistics giant Toll Group who served on the bargaining
committee for his co-workers along with representatives from
the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Local 848 in
Long Beach, Calif. The Australian corporation operates near
the nation's largest port complexes on both coasts and handles
accounts for Guess?, Polo, Under Armour and other fashion and
sportswear lines sold at big box and department retailers like
Walmart and JC Penney.
The landmark agreement culminates more than 24 months of
worker struggle and employer resistance in which these
truckers - aided by a community coalition, their children, and
clergy - borrowed bullhorns, leafleted consumers, gathered
signatures practiced their picket lines, staged noisy
protests, crashed shareholder meetings in a dogged campaign to
end the Third World-like working conditions they once
U.S. port drivers are the most underpaid in the trucking
industry: A typical professional earns $28,873 a year before
taxes. Their net incomes often resemble that of part-time fast
food or retail workers though they clock an average of 59
hours a week. They must possess specialized skills and
licensing to safely command an 80,000 lb. container rig, but
they fit the profile of America's working poor. Food stamps,
extended family, or church pantries are needed to get by;
their children often lack regular pediatricians or only
receive care at the public ER.
With American wages in freefall due to the imbalance of power
enjoyed by multinational corporations, the scope and
significance of such a labor accord with a transportation
titan that operates in some 55 countries is alone a jaw
dropper. What observers further find remarkable: The 65
workers who secured these middle-class benefits with their $8
billion employer are blue-collar Latino-Americans who hold
jobs within a deregulated, virtually union-free industry at
"It upends the common wisdom that a workforce that lacks
rights on the job cannot build the courage or bargaining
strength to take on the Goliaths of the global economy. But
these drivers, like the workers at the warehouses and Walmart
and Wendy's, understand they cannot raise families on such low
wages, so they are coming together to rewrite the playbook,"
noted Dr. John Logan, the director of Labor and Employment
Studies at the College of Business at San Francisco State
University. "The faces of this new movement are ordinary
parents and churchgoers and community members who value the
influence of a local priest as much as the expertise of an
international overseas union. Not only do they have the guts
to strike - they have the faith they can win."
Their collective resolve paid off. Mr. Ortega, a single father
who works the night shift, will see his new per-hour rate of
$19.75 reflected on his next paycheck, plus any overtime will
be paid at a time-and-a-half rate of $28.
"As a truck driver, I wanted the assurance that things would
be okay for my daughter if I was injured, that I could take
her to see the doctor if she got sick," the 36-year-old
explained. "When we started organizing ourselves, we weren't
asking for anything out of this world. To be treated with
dignity. A fair day's pay for a hard day's work. Decent,
sanitary facilities to make a pit stop, rest, eat...you know,
perform our jobs safely.
"But we knew winning basic respect would take a fight at every
turn. So when we were afraid to lose our jobs, we asked our
allies for help. When we were afraid to take action, we prayed
for the courage to speak out. And we always stuck together,
and never ever gave up."
Elected leaders praised the union contract as both a middle-
class builder and noted its high-road business merits.
"we're talking about the men and women who are the backbone of
our regional and national economy, yet they have never shared
in the prosperity of the corporations they make so
profitable," said Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose
district includes the largest port in America. "The standards
that Toll Group, its workers, and Teamsters Local 848 have set
make it possible to reward and attract responsible port
businesses that want to compete on a more level playing field
based on innovation and quality, rather than who can pay Los
Angeles' vital workers the least."
Fair wages -The day shift hourly rate increased from $12.72 to
$19, and the night shift hourly rate from $13.22 to $19.75. In
addition to the over $6/hour increase in hourly pay rates,
drivers won $0.50/hour per year raises over the life of the
contract, giving Toll port drivers over a 60% hourly wage
boost over the life of the 3-year contract. Overtime pay of
time-and-half kicks in after a typical full time 40-hour week,
which is extremely rare in an industry where truckers are
exempt from federal overtime laws and an average week hovers
around 60 hours.
Secure retirement -Prior to the contract, less than a dozen
Toll drivers could spare any extra dollars, even pre-tax, to
participate in the corporate 401(k) plan. As Teamster Local
848 members, they have been automatically enrolled in the
union's Western Conference Pension Trust. Such a retirement
plan at the port has rarely been seen since trucking was
deregulated in 1980. Toll will make a pension contribution of
$1/hour per driver until 2014, and a $1.50/hour per driver by
Affordable health care - The Toll Group health care plan was
financially out of reach for most of its truck drivers. The
few who managed to meet the premium, deductibles and
copayments will now keep significant more money in their
pocket without sacrificing coverage, and the rest of their co-
workers finally have access to quality, affordable health
insurance coverage, including dental and vision care. The
company will pay 95% of the premium for individuals and 90%
for family coverage. Drivers who previously had to shell out
$125/month for individual or $400/month per family will drop
to roughly $30 or $150, respectively.
Stable work hours and paid time off - Most truck drivers lose
a day's pay if they cannot work, are penalized by dispatchers
for being unable to haul a load, and lack paid sick or holiday
leave, making it stressful for family budgets and planning.
But Toll drivers made substantial gains in all these areas.
They will receive seven paid holidays, three paid personal
days, and six paid sick days annually. They will accrue one or
two weeks of vacation within the first two years of service,
with longtime employees earning up to a month. They can also
bank on guaranteed full- or half-day of pay regardless of
seasonal slowdowns if they are scheduled to work.
Incentives to grow responsibly, level competition, and raise
market standards - The agreement establishes a high-road
business model for the port trucking industry that recognizes
Toll's competitors have not yet embraced livable wages and
working conditions. To encourage a more level playing field
and wide-scale unionization, drivers will have the ability to
re-negotiate for improvements when a simple majority of the
Southern California market is organized.
"We commend the drivers at Toll for their leadership in
challenging the status quo at the ports. Workers everywhere
are standing up and saying enough to poverty wages and Toll
drivers have demonstrated that working families are ready to
bring middle-class wages back to America," said Teamster
General President Jim Hoffa.
"For too long companies in the global supply chain have gamed
the system by undercutting U.S. businesses that actually
create good jobs. Toll Group and its drivers have raised the
bar for responsible competition, and the Teamsters will not
stop until the rest of the nation's port drivers have a shot
at the American Dream."
Drivers from coast to coast in the virtually non-union and
deregulated sector are eyeing the pact as a huge leap forward
for the profession with the potential to trigger sweeping
changes in the industry.
Click here to see an infographic on
how the L.A. Toll Teamsters stack up against the rest of the
The landmark contract caps over two years of struggle for
union recognition that workers took online, to the truck
yard, and in the LA streets; they zig-zagged to other U.S.
seaports to shore up support, and even continent-crossed to
meet their Aussie union workmates who stood in solidarity at
their joint employer's doorstep.
In so doing, this group of Latino immigrants became an
unlikely symbol of hope for their underpaid counterparts -
union and not-yet-union, working in an adopted homeland as
well as American-born workers - who must endure low-wage jobs
in other profitable sectors in the U.S. food, retail, and
global supply chain industries.
The victory is also being celebrated across the Pacific Ocean
where the Melbourne-based Toll Group employs some 12,000 of
Australian drivers united in the Transport Workers Union
(TWU). The members view their U.S. counterparts as their
"workmates" and have supported the port drivers from Day One
to ensure that as Toll enters new global markets, the company
replicates the constructive labor-management relations that
made it so profitable Down Under.
"We couldn't be prouder of our mates in America. From the
beginning we said `your fight is our fight' and today we say
your victory is our victory," said TWU Acting National
Secretary Michael Kaine. "The standards of fairness and
respect for workers should be upheld by Toll no matter where
they operate. The message to industry is clear, in this global
economy workers and unions across continents are already in
alliance with each other and we will continue to support one
another until we have a strong voice in our workplaces
The newly-inked contract with the Teamsters further gives
another shot in the arm to the movement of port drivers
fighting to overcome "misclassification" - illegally denying
workers W-2 employment and benefits, a scam that keeps the
American Dream out of their reach. Workers are coming forward
with evidence for state and federal authorities as part of a
coast-to-coast multi-industry crackdown on employers who
disguise their employees as independent contractors to evade
taxes, commit wage & hour violations, and quell unionization.
The controversial practice is widespread in the deregulated
Information on the blue-green coalition behind the nationwide
movement to drive up worker standards and clean up U.S.
seaports can be found here: www.CleanAndSafePorts.org
Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.
Submit via email: [log in to unmask]
Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3
Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq
Search Portside archives: http://portside.org/archive
Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate