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Law Puts Big Retailers on the Hook for Pay Owed to Truckers A New Wrinkle in Wage Battles

Jan 10, 2019 / News Item / fairwarning.org — Eli Wolfe

For years, truck drivers hauling billions of dollars of clothing, appliances and other consumer goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have complained about rampant wage law violations by the trucking firms that hire them. The alleged abuses include failing to pay minimum wages and overtime.

But even when truckers’ claims have been upheld by state authorities, often they have found it nearly impossible to collect back wages from recalcitrant employers.

Now a new law designed to put muscle into wage enforcement efforts is putting the likes of Walmart, Costco and Target on the hook when they do business with unscrupulous trucking firms.

Under the law, known as SB 1402, California’s Labor Commissioner published a blacklist of 19 companies that have failed to pay their drivers court-ordered awards for wage violations.

The law, however, is intended to do more than just shame violators. It calls for any business that hires a company on the list to share joint civil legal liability and responsibility for any unpaid judgments. In other words, if a big retailer hires a listed trucking company to transport its goods and the trucking firm is found in violation, the retailer can be forced to pay the judgment.

“This new law incentivizes trucking companies to pay up on judgments and put earned wages into drivers pockets,” said Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su in a press release issued last week.

The blacklist will be updated monthly under the law, and the amount of money owed to workers overall could swell beyond the current level of $1.6 million.  The legislation was introduced last year by former State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat whose old legislative district covers the Port of Long Beach and who in November was elected California’s insurance commissioner.

“It’s the only statute of its kind in America,” said Barry Broad, an attorney who helped craft the law and has worked as a lobbyist for the Teamsters union in California.

Broad said holding major retailers accountable for the labor violations committed by the trucking companies they rely on will help authorities crack down on offenders.  “The existing labor laws are being vigorously enforced and they’re still not changing behavior,” he said.

Labor violations are commonplace at California ports, several of which are major hubs for goods from China and other Asian countries. The neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together are the nation’s busiest, and they see some of the worst wage theft cases.

Domingo Avalos, a port truck driver in the area, said his employer, XPO Logistics, illegally underpaid him by making him work 11 hours a day for a low piece rate. He also alleged that XPO illegally deducted business expenses from his earnings. In 2017, before the law took effect, Avalos successfully recovered $171,938 through a judgment ordered by the Labor Commissioner, but it took months of litigation.

Avalos said he’s happy there’s a new law to hold companies accountable for stealing money from their employees.  “We’re pushing them from every angle,” he said.

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