LOS ANGELES - A class-action lawsuit filed Thursday in state court alleges a local trucking company stiffed its drivers on wages, refused to provide for meal and rest periods and rejected reimbursements for work-related expenses.
The lawsuit against Total Transportation Service Inc., one of the harbor's largest firms, claims drivers were routinely denied pay for necessary work performed before their official shifts - work that included picking up and inspecting trucks and chassis.
"These drivers were doing everything necessary to make sure the trucks were safe and ready for the day, but when it came time to get paid, they were told such work was to be done on their own time and they weren't getting reimbursed," said attorney Adam Luetto of the law firm of Ellyn Moscowitz. "Another example is with drivers' cell phones. They were forced to use their cell phones to keep in touch with the company and report on deliveries and so forth, but when they asked to get reimbursed for these legitimate work-related expenses, they were denied."
TTSI didn't return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit covers a roughly six-month period between August 2008 and April during which roughly 20 percent of drivers in the Port of Los Angeles worked as employees of trucking companies, as required under that city's Clean Trucks Plan.
The program called for motor carriers doing business on state-owned waterfront property to gradually hire employee drivers
Long Beach and Los Angeles jointly banned pre-1989 rigs on Oct. 1, 2008, and the ban continues progressively through 2012, when only models meeting federal 2007 emission standards will be allowed onto port property.
However, in late April, the employee-driver mandate was temporarily enjoined by a federal judge in the midst of a lawsuit against the plan by the American Trucking Associations, which vehemently opposed requirements that harbor-area firms own and maintain the new rigs required under the Clean Truck Plan.
Within days of the ruling, TTSI's employee drivers were quickly re-classified as contract drivers paid by the load and responsible for their own truck payments, fuel, insurance and other necessities.
Also named in the lawsuit are several staffing agencies the trucking firms hired to find drivers - an effort Luetto believes was designed to shift any wage and labor violations off the companies and onto the staffing agencies.
"Judging by case law on similar circumstances, we believe the staffing agencies and trucking company will be found to have been joint employers of the drivers, whatever their intentions may have been," Luetto said.
Among other allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, was that drivers were denied meal and rest periods as required under California Labor Code.
Plaintiffs also allege drivers were retaliated against if they complained.
"Everything with TTSI seemed like a strategy to nickel and dime us out of our wages," said port driver Richard Montoya, one of three plaintiffs named in the suit. "For example, when I complained about us not getting reimbursed for using our cell phones to communicate with TTSI during the day, it wasn't too long until they told me not to come back to work for them."
Since the April ruling in federal court, the vast majority of port drivers have returned to independent owner-operator status, exempting local firms from California wage and hour laws, overtime and mandatory meal and rest periods for their drivers.
The court battle between the Port of Los Angeles and the ATA is set to resume in December.