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You know how bad Uber is for drivers. Port truckers have it worse. Much worse.

Uber, the ride-sharing service that is putting cabbies out of business while reinventing transportation, has spent much of the past year under siege from workers, advocates and the media as America’s new sweatshop.

Drivers, who are considered small businesses, complain that they work long hours for little pay. They say Uber holds too much control over them, so they deserve the same employee protections as everyone else – minimum wage, overtime pay and health benefits.

But as rough as it may be living off Uber fares, the challenges pale in comparison to what a group of independent truckers in southern California face, USA TODAY reported last week after investigating the industry for more than a year.

There are about 16,000 truckers whose job is to move half of all American imports from the ports near Los Angeles. They haul shipping containers short distances to warehouses and train yards so the goods inside can get to your favorite store.

For the past decade, these drivers – most of them uneducated immigrants who speak little English – have faced the same basic work arrangement as Uber drivers.

What’s different is that if port truckers decide to walk away when the going gets tough, they can face immediate financial ruin.

Starting in 2008, truckers say, they were pressured to take on $100,000 truck leases that put them into debt to their own employers.

Every week they pay hundreds of dollars towards the truck, hoping that after seven years or so they will own it.

The trucks are so expensive that many drivers are forced to work 15 to 20 hours a day to make ends meet. Even then, some drivers wind up owing their employers money at the end of a full work week.

Truckers say it doesn’t take long to feel trapped.

It’s like putting most of your income into a 401(k) that your boss gets to keep if you quit or get fired.

Hundreds of drivers say the companies use the threat of termination to force them to work past exhaustion, USA TODAY found.

If drivers get sick or too exhausted to go on, the trucking companies can fire them and take their truck, plus everything the drivers had paid toward the lease.

Many drivers have lost $50,000 or more, then lost their home or had to file for bankruptcy.

Some drivers say they’ve been physically barred from leaving work.

David Figueroa said he came back to the truck yard after double shifts to find the gates locked. “They would call the security guard and he wouldn’t let me back in,” he testified in a 2014 California labor commission case. “That was how they forced me to continue working.”

Ho Lee got got ill and missed a week of work. Eddy Gonzalez took time off to bury his dead mother. Saul Alvarado couldn’t afford his emergency maintenance.

The drivers testified at the labor commission that their boss fired them on the spot, then took their trucks and the thousands they’d paid into them.

These truckers are the original drivers of the gig economy. Except their bosses aren’t tech titans reshaping the world, but instead dispatchers and managers deep in the bowels of the supply chain armed with little more than a phone and fax machine.

“Nobody cares about us because we are living in the dark,” said one trucker, Gustavo Villa.

Thousands of Uber drivers have complained in class-action lawsuits that they wind up earning less than minimum wage.

Port truckers sometimes go home actually owing money to their employers at the end of the week.

Uber drivers say they were tricked into signing “gibberish” contracts, signing away their employment rights in the new gig economy.

Port truckers walked into work one day and got handed contracts they had to sign to keep their jobs. Many say they couldn’t read English and were given no time to have it translated.

After reviewing USA TODAY’s findings, Stanford Law School professor William Gould said port trucking is a new low for American workers.

Gould is one of the nation’s top labor experts and a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

“This makes Uber seem relatively genteel,” he said.

Source of article click here : USA Today

 

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