April 28--Dozens of short-haul truck drivers staged a protest Monday morning outside the gates of Garden City Terminal, contending they are being treated unfairly by the trucking companies who hire them to move containers in and out of the port.
"We are out here today to bring attention to the fact that we are being misclassified by our employers," said Carol Cauley, spokeswoman for the group, adding that most trucking companies classify the drivers as contract workers rather than employees.
"If they would classify us as employees, which is the way they treat us, drivers would earn a little more and have some of the benefits of employees, such as access to health care insurance," she said.
"As it is, after all their out-of-pocket expenses, these drivers are working for pennies on the dollar, living paycheck to paycheck" said Cauley, who has been driving for C&K Trucking for nearly a decade.
"We really need to get that changed."
Gerald Spaulding, a driver for CMC Logistics, agreed.
"We really are employees," he said. "The trucking companies tell us where to pick our load up, what time to be there, what time to deliver it. If we don't perform, we get fired just like an employee."
The group hopes legislation introduced last session at the Capitol in Atlanta will get a closer look next year as awareness of the issue grows.
Senate Bill 401 and SB 402 would align Georgia's laws on worker classifications with federal provisions and impose stiff penalties for violations, according to Ben Speight, organizing director for the Teamsters Local Union 728 in Atlanta, which supported the bills and sponsored Monday's protest rally.
Asked if the group was trying to organize as a union, Cauley said that wasn't the primary reason for the rally.
"We're just trying to get our classification changed from contract worker to employee," she said. "Once that happens, we will look into other options, but the push right now is simply to get a fair wage for a day's work."
A study released earlier this year by the National Employment Law Project and other organized labor think tanks concluded that 75,000 truckers at ports across the country are in the same situation and each of them loses more than $5,000 monthly in compensation they would have gotten as employees. The groups say that totals $1.4 billion annually on a national basis.
In Georgia, the labor-sponsored study estimates nearly 4,000 of the 6,000 port drivers are misclassified.
But Ed Crowell, president and CEO of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, asserts that the majority of independent contractors and owner-operators in the state are happy with their status.
"This is strictly a union-inspired event," he said. "It is part and parcel of a nationwide effort by the Teamsters to unionize short-haul port drivers across the country."
As truck drivers were protesting outside GPA gates Monday, drivers who haul cargo in and out of the West Coast Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began a two-day strike, also contending that many trucking companies wrongly classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees in order to pay them less and deny them protections that employees get under state and federal laws.
The protest at the Port of Savannah was peaceful and did not impede the flow of truck traffic into or out of Garden City Terminal.
Copyright 2014 - Savannah Morning News, Ga.