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Jon Fleischman

Fred Wszolek: Teamsters Attempted Trucker Unionization Means Higher Consumer Prices

[Publisher’s Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from  Fred Wszolek – Flash]

Truck drivers who service the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, California are under pressure.  After nearly six years of quietly laying the groundwork for a massive campaign, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has a message for port drivers – it’s time to join the labor movement and pay union dues.

Organized labor already looms large at the twin ports.  The International Longshore Warehouse Union represents the dockworkers and was the driving force behind the eight-day strike at this labor stronghold last December.

If the Teamsters have their way, they will soon be adding the truck drivers who handle the transportation of goods to and from port terminals, rail yards and storage facilities in the Inland Empire.  Because these individuals are independent contractors and not company employees, federal law currently prohibits them from forming a union.

But that hasn’t stopped the Teamsters.  Last year, they successfully convinced a group of formerly-independent drivers to haul goods for the Australian logistics company, Toll Group.  About 65 drivers are now organized Toll Group employees and are compensated as such, receiving standardized wages, health care benefits and access to a pension plan.

The Teamsters are convinced that the example set by the Toll Group employees will convince the other truck drivers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to join their ranks.  So far, though, they haven’t been successful.

Luckily for Big Labor, they have the government to lend a hand.  Under pressure from the Teamsters, state and federal regulators have begun to audit port trucking firms.  In an interview with the Daily Breeze, Harbor Trucking Association executive director Alex Cherin said that “the government audits have been disruptive, especially to smaller trucking firms … both California and federal investigators tend to use a ‘shotgun’ approach in which they blindly investigate firms, many of which have done nothing wrong.”

Sound familiar?  The developments with the Teamsters dovetail with recent news that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been specifically targeting and auditing conservative groups.  Now government officials are helping union organizers with unwarranted audits of independent trucking firms.  Unfortunately for trucking firms and their contractors in California, it is unlikely to end there.

The Golden State is one of only four states in which Big Labor is actually exempt from stalking laws, meaning union bosses and their organizers are immune from prosecution when engaging in acts during labor disputes which fall under the stalking statute, such as harassment and intimidation, to name a few.

In addition, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that non-union employees have no right to object to the disclosure of their personal contact information – another advantage to the Teamsters effort.

This begs the question, if union membership was so beneficial for employee, why would it be necessary to give every advantage to the labor bosses trying to forcibly organize and expand their ranks at the expense of worker freedoms and privacy?

The answer is that in many cases, employees are not best served by union affiliation and would prefer not to be a part of a collective bargaining unit.  A nationwide poll released in conjunction with National Employee Free Choice Week (June 23-29), found that more than 33 percent of individuals who are currently in a union would opt out of membership if they could keep their job and not face a penalty for doing so.

In California specifically, more than 36 percent of those polled would choose to leave their union behind.  Combine that with the fact that union membership in the United States has been on a steady decline since the middle of the last century, reaching an all-time low of 11.3 percent in 2013, and you begin to understand why the Teamsters are having to go to such great lengths to try and force drivers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach into the union.

No matter what the Teamsters say or do, they can’t deny the fact that the tide has turned against union bosses.

And if you think this is just another business versus labor fight that doesn’t affect you, think again.  If you’ve ever shopped at an American retail store for food, lumber, household goods or clothing, chances are some of what you purchased came through the port in Los Angeles.  And if the Teamsters get their way, you’ll pay more during each and every trip to the store.
Independent contractors at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach should take note and work to protect themselves from the bullying and harassment that union organizers will attempt to inflict.  Instead, they should come together and continue to communicate to union bosses that they choose to work independently.


Fred Wszolek is a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute.