Port Workers Plan L.A. Strike to Challenge Logistics Firms

(Bloomberg) -- Warehouse workers and truck drivers at Los Angeles ports are planning to launch a three-day strike Monday, aiming to put pressure on logistics companies they claim owe them back wages.

The action targets XPO Logistics Inc. and NFI Industries and marks the 16th strike mounted by the Teamsters union in recent years among nonunion workers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the labor group. Rather than focus on slowing work at the ports, the strikers plan to concentrate picketing and leafleting Monday and Tuesday on warehouses, headquarters and retail outlets of clients of XPO and NFI, as well as demonstrating at the port itself.

The strike is the latest effort by labor groups to focus on workers who companies don’t consider direct employees, or who get their paychecks from other firms in the supply chain. It also exemplifies how strikes in the U.S. have shifted toward drawing public scrutiny to corporate behavior and workers’ demands -- such as the union-backed “Fight for $15” -- rather than directly disrupting companies’ bottom line.

Port officials have said that previous Teamster strikes led to some shipments being turned away but had a limited impact on operations. The union hopes that its mobilizations next week will heighten public pressure on the logistics firms and on their prominent clients, which the Teamsters said include Amazon.com Inc., Best Buy Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Puma and Rio Tinto Plc.

Those companies didn’t provide comment.

‘We Work for Them’

“At the end of the day, we work for them too -- we carry their cargo, so we want them to support us,” said XPO Logistics driver Cesar Rodriguez.

The strike escalates a long-running dispute between organized labor and the logistics companies that’s helped draw local and federal regulatory scrutiny to XPO and NFI. Workers have argued that the companies wrongly classify them as independent contractors. Because of the amount of control the companies exercise over them, the workers say they should legally be considered employees with the right to unionize and to be paid at least minimum wage.

In a statement, NFI said the Teamsters are seeking to force workers into unions who’d rather be independent. XPO didn’t return requests for comment.

“We respect their desire to operate as independent business people and not as employees of our companies or the hundreds of other trucking companies that are currently looking to hire employee drivers,” NFI said in the statement.

On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to assert its jurisdiction over the port’s revocable lease with NFI, raising the prospect that the council could evict the company if concerns are not addressed. NFI, while calling the vote “unfortunate,” said it plans to educate the council about efforts to raise wages and invest in the facility.

“NFI is committed to being a great employer, partner and contributor,” the company said.

The strikers also plan to focus on immigration issues. On Wednesday, they plan to join up with other labor and progressive groups for demonstrations focused on Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian policy that helps people from countries in perilous conditions live and work in the U.S. Trump has ordered the status revoked over the next two years for immigrants from countries including El Salvador, Honduras and Nepal, which could lead to those individuals being deported.

Drivers hope their absence from work will underscore the issue’s urgency for companies and the U.S. Congress, which they’re urging to pass legislation to protect those affected. That’s likely an uphill battle as long as the presidency and Congress remain Republican-controlled.

“The mostly immigrant workforce that labors at the gateway of the U.S. supply chain is on strike to demand an end to the illegal and exploitative working conditions they have endured,” Fred Potter, vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in a statement.

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