Port of Long Beach truck drivers deliver petition demanding more protection from coronavirus

Long Beach Port terminals will begin barring the last of the most polluting rigs from entering their gates on Jan. 1.

Truck drivers who work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach delivered a petition Thursday, Mat 7 to port administrators demanding greater protections against COVID-19.

Thursday morning, the drivers circled the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Administration Building in San Pedro in their trucks to demand benefits such as paid sick leave and health insurance, as well as adequate personal protective equipment, which they said most of them are not receiving from the companies with which they’re contracted.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, my work at the port has slowed down, and it’s become nearly impossible to support my family,” said Juan Giraldo, a port truck driver from Los Angeles. “We haven’t been provided with the masks and gloves necessary to stay safe, and if I got sick, I’d be in an even tougher situation since my company doesn’t provide me with paid sick leave.”

Most of the drivers say they are classified as independent contractors, according to a statement from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Our People Our Port coalition, which are representing the drivers. As such, they are not entitled to the same benefits as employees.

The petition was signed by at least 270 drivers, the Teamsters stated, and it demands proper protective equipment, paid sick leave, immediate cash assistance, free COVID-19 testing, social distancing policies to be implemented and a “suspension of payment requirements related to truck loans and leases.”

Although the drivers demanded the COVID-19 equipment and benefits in the petition to the ports, it’s up to the companies that contract those drivers to provide those benefits as they are not contracted with the ports.

“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Los Angeles County Health Department have recommended guidelines and procedures to keep work environments safe,” said Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles. “The port expects all of its tenants to adhere to those regulations for its employees.”

“The port takes worker concerns seriously, which is why we donated 1,000 sets of gloves and 500 masks to Teamsters Local 848 and the same amount to the Harbor Trucking Association in March,” Sanfield said. “The Port of Los Angeles, as well as LoVLA, is here to assist.”

LoVLA, or Logistics Victory Los Angeles, is the initiative to focus supply chains on getting medical supplies to frontline medical workers and people working in essential businesses during the pandemic.

Sanfield said as the Port of Los Angeles is operating at about 80% of its normal cargo volumes during this time of the year, trucking operations have also declined, and therefore, there’s less work for longshore workers and truckers.

Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, which assists their member trucking companies with their needs, told City News Service that the association has sent personal protective equipment around the nation, even to companies that are not association members.

“We’ve worked with marine terminals and the Port of Los Angeles on protocols for social distancing and (for truck drivers) to have no interactions with marine clerks,” LaBar said, adding they’ve worked with companies to ensure drivers don’t have to pick up a phone and to be able to electronically share documents.

“We take driver safety to the highest regard,” LeBar said.

LaBar said the HTA is also working on a plan to provide health care and other benefits to truckers, but that has stalled at the state government level.

Matt Lopez, a spokesman for the Teamsters, said the purpose for the petition and today’s demonstration was to get the attention of the drivers’ companies, port officials and the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Lopez said the ports could prohibit companies from doing business with them if the companies don’t provide their contracted drivers with personal protective equipment or sanitizing materials.

“The overarching goal, and the Teamsters have organized this for years, is to fix that misclassification” as independent contractors, Lopez said.

The Teamsters said the truck drivers do not feel safe at work because they said they are not financially protected in the event one of them contracts COVID-19, and the medical bills they could incur would be “insurmountable.”

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