A California state senator has proposed a bill that would hold major retailers liable when the trucking companies they use to carry goods violate labor laws. California Senator Ricardo Lara has introduced SB 1402 to attempt to solve a long-standing “driver misclassification issue” for drivers who carry goods to and from ports in Southern California.
Currently, many drivers are classified as independent contractors, meaning they are ineligible for consistent wages, schedules, benefits, and other types of security offered to full-time employees. Independent contractors who perform the work of those classified as “employees” have attempted to seek relief by filing class action lawsuits against the trucking companies. The test for whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee centers on control. Generally, an independent contractor has control over his or her schedule and equipment. An employee, by contrast, must come to work at specific times and does not bring his or her own equipment to the job site. For more on independent contractors vs employees, click here.
Some advocates for truck drivers have claimed that drivers are locked into truck leases and have little freedom to choose when and where they work, which makes them employees. Trucking companies claim they have a right to choose their own business model and drivers may choose their employment status. The California Labor Commission has generally ruled in favor of truck drivers in recent lawsuits.
Typically, when a court agrees that an employer committed labor law violations by forcing its truck drivers to work long hours on pre-set schedules while compensating them as independent contractors, the court will rule against the trucking company. However, it can be difficult to collect a judgment against a trucking company that may be financially insolvent.
SB 1402 would make retailers liable for hiring port trucking companies with unpaid final judgments for labor and employment law violations. These violations could include failure to pay wages or benefits to drivers or imposing unlawful expenses on them. The bill would also create a list of trucking companies that failed to pay final judgments. Finally, if retailers hired any of the companies on the list to carry goods to and from the ports, those retailers would be held liable for future violations. The mayors of Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Oakland—the locations of the state’s three biggest ports—have already showed their support for the bill.
For more information on this bill, and others, contact attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.