Thursday, October 1, 2009

Judge Supports SoCal Harbor Drivers as Independent Operators

A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge has dismissed a suit brought by California Attorney General and Gubernatorial-hopeful Jerry Brown against a Southern California harbor trucking firm alleging the firm misclassified employees as independent owner operators.

Judge Elizabeth Allen White asked the lawyers for defendant Pac Anchor Transportation truck owner Alfredo Barajas to write up an order closing the case that she will sign.

The civil suit against Long Beach-based Pac Anchor was one of several brought by and publicized by Brown in 2008 in which he alleged that the trucking firms in question had engaged in "cost-cutting schemes, circumvented state employment taxes and labor laws, and took unfair advantage of drivers."

The suit was praised at the time by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other labor groups who have for years tried to get independent owner operator drivers reclassified as employees, thus opening the drivers up to organizing. Unions, under law, cannot organize independent owner operators but they can organize employees.

In her ruling, Judge White found that Brown’s case would have a significant effect on motor carrier prices, routes, and services and was therefore preempted under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which prohibits states from enacting and enforcing laws that are "related to" motor carrier prices, routes, or services.

The judge found that Brown’s attempted actions threatened to erect entry controls that would discourage independent contractor drivers from participating in the trucking market, thereby frustrating Congress' intent to maximize competitive forces in the trucking industry.

Following the court’s decision, Pac Anchor lawyer Neil Lerner said, "This case should never have been brought, as it was clearly preempted by federal law, and since at least one California Appellate Court had previously so held.”