Last month, a small group of drivers, organized and backed by a special interest public relations campaign, created a minor work disruption at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That same day, the overwhelming majority of port drivers reported for work. This was no “crisis,” but rather was the latest in a long line of attacks on the right of independent truckers to operate in California’s ports.

In 2008, special interest groups attempted to completely ban small independent truckers from doing business at the Port of Los Angeles. Regarding that attempt, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated the arguments by the proponents to ban thousands of independent truckers “denigrate small businesses and insist that individuals should work for large employers or not at all.” These same special interest groups pursued legislation in 2011 that would have banned independent truckers from doing business at ports statewide. Undeterred, these attacks on independent truckers continue.

As organizations representing the California trucking and intermodal goods movement industries, the California Trucking Association and Harbor Trucking Association want to set the record straight. We respectfully disagree with Rep. Janice Hahn’s op-ed in the May 19 issue of the Business Journal (“Why Port Drivers Keep Striking”), which characterized all port drivers as “low-wage” workers who take home less than minimum wage.

Independent truckers have been an integral part of the trucking industry for more than 75 years. Beginning with a single truck has long been a pathway to business ownership. Throughout the years, this option has provided working-class Californians with the opportunity for upward mobility through hard work and dedication. Most midsize and large trucking companies were built from the dreams and hard work of just one independent trucker.

A chance at this opportunity is why drivers are independent by choice. In 2012, a Transportation Department-sponsored survey found that 80 percent of participating independent truckers said it would be “easy” or “very easy” to be hired as an employee driver for a trucking company. Out of those drivers, 85 percent had previously worked as drivers for other trucking companies and then chose to become independent business owners. 

In addition, the claims that independent truckers are, as a whole, paid low wages is misleading. In 2012, the American Trucking Association conducted a study concluding that “it is common for (independent) drivers to earn more than similarly situated employee drivers” and in 2013, Rip Watson, an industry expert stated that “the average (independent trucker) fares better than company driver counterparts,” with a net income of $51,912 compared with “about $40,000 per year for the same amount of work” by an employee driver. This is nearly $8,000 higher than the national average wage.

However, we recognize that allegations of blatant misclassification – in which employee drivers are considered independent truckers – are a serious matter. The CTA and HTA are committed to continue our effort in offering education to our members about compliance with California’s extremely complex labor laws.

Broadly, port trucking is not without its real challenges. Independent truckers operating at California ports must meet the strictest emission standards in the nation. This has added significant increases to the cost of doing business. Also, we are constantly battling issues brought about by continued congestion at marine terminals; this summer, there are looming threats of a West Coast strike over contract negotiations at the ports. These are real crises that impact all truckers, whether employee or independent, that we would be happy to work with Hahn on developing solutions.

At the end of the day, we must recognize the vital role independent truckers play, not only to the trucking industry but in providing a pathway to the middle class for hard-working Californians. Reform efforts should be centered on making all laws, not just labor laws, easier to understand, navigate and enforce objectively, not limiting nor restricting the right of these entrepreneurial independent truckers to establish, operate and grow their own businesses.

Shawn Yadon is chief executive of the California Trucking Association. Alex Cherin is executive director for the Harbor Trucking Association.

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