Advocates for workers as well as governments worry about the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. A true independent contractor has control over his or her work conditions, provides his own tools, is not subject to close supervision, and often has multiple clients. By classifying an employee as an independent contractor, the employer avoids paying FICA taxes, unemployment contributions, workers compensation premiums, and of course any fringe benefits offered to employees. In addition, they do not have the right to form a union, can’t sue under the anti-discrimination laws, and do not have the enhanced damages awarded in court when wages are withheld.
A new study by the National Employment Law Project reports that port workers are often categorized as independent contractors. This trend not only deprives drivers of the rights mentioned above, but requires them, under the guise of being “independent,” to own or lease their own trucks, pay for gas and insurance, and be paid only by the load. But they are held to exclusive contracts that forbid them from working for any other employer.
Another byproduct of this system is that the truckers make too little to maintain their rigs adequately, so our highways are beset with older and poorly maintained equipment.
The study recommends that the nation’s ports better the situation by making rules requiring the trucking companies to own and maintain their own trucks, and classify their drivers as employees. Many of these drivers will still be exempt from overtime pay under the Motor Carriers Act exemption to overtime, but at least would be able to spend their wages on themselves and their families, instead of their employers’ trucks.