I’ve been approached by drivers and employers with many complaints of unfair treatment, cash payments, and absolutely zero due process for drivers accused of frivolous or non-substantiated violations of terminal rules. When I discussed this issue with association general counsel they couldn’t believe what was described is actually happening in California. Unfortunately, it’s happening at the Port of Oakland and it’s one of those topics that nobody seems to want to talk about in “polite company.” It’s time to shed the silence and reform a process that unfairly discriminates against those least able to defend themselves – the port truck driver.
Make no mistake, “cash only” payments (w/no receipt) for fines assessed reeks of organized racketeering and needs to stop. I have asked drivers to make visual/audio recordings of these off-the-books “transactions” and forward them to me.
Terminal operators are leasing ground space (tenants) that is ultimately held in trust for the People of California – individual rights and protections don’t end once you’ve entered a gate regardless of lawyered up access agreements. Those “people” owning the land occupied by terminals also includes the same truck drivers attempting to make a living just like everyone else working the ports. Many drivers are immigrants especially susceptible to coercive treatment since that is an all too common experience in the countries they come from.
Drivers have a right to due process on publicly owned property when they are being fined or banned from earning a living. Terminal operators should reevaluate the practices they encourage and institute necessary reforms.
We all understand the rules are there for safety reasons and responsible people are not going to begrudge a tenant the right to protect everyone’s safety while on the terminal. Are there drivers who break the rules and should face consequences? Yes. Are there drivers retaliated against under the guise of the rules? Unquestionably that happens too and there is no recourse for those drivers wrongly fined or banned.
The drivers and employers who have talked openly with me about their experiences with the practice of banning drivers often express frustration that there is no appeals process. In an era where it’s increasingly difficult to find good qualified drivers, banning a driver can often mean they drift off to other work – lost to the port for good. Drivers feel as if they are walking on egg-shells and any expression of frustration will get them fined/and or banned. In short, truck driver’s livelihoods can be turned upside down in a nanosecond and employers are coerced into silence for fear that defending a driver can open their company to retaliation when inside the gates.
I spent nearly 30 years behind the wheel of a truck and have personal experience with the coercive practices at many loading/unloading facilities. That experience ultimately culminated in my being a named plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of unloading practices at grocery giant SuperValu. Going into court is never a pleasant course of action for anyone and need not be here.