By now, most retailers have become sensitive to media reports of labor abuses in their supply chains — but a new report from USA Today suggests that abuses occurring during the last leg of a product’s journey — from the port to the store — may have escaped attention.
In the report, companies like Target, Costco, Hewlett-Packard, LG, and Samsung were among the those accused of benefitting from exploitative actions taken by their trucking contractors and subcontractors. These are the companies hired to deliver products from U.S. ports to distributions centers and stores.
From misclassifying employees as independent contractors to huge lease-to-own bills that offload the costs of the trucks onto the drivers themselves , the report details the plight of some truck drivers who find it almost impossible to make a living doing what used to be a fairly reliable blue collar job
According to a new report from USA Today, companies use layers of contractors and subcontractors, but trucking firms employed by companies like Target, Costco, Hewlett-Packard, LG, and Samsung were among the contractors accused of wage theft and other wrongdoing.
You should check out the whole report, which includes an example supply chain where you can follow a teddy bear from the factory in China to a store shelf and the transportation costs in between, but here are six things we learned about why things are so bad for drivers who pick up goods from Los Angeles.
1. Why are things worse in Los Angeles? Owner-operators of big rigs having trouble making ends meet is an old problem that became even worse about a decade ago. About half of the goods that we use come in through the port of Los Angeles, but it’s a center of problematic worker treatment for what were originally environmentally responsible reasons.
Beginning in 2008, older trucks that emit more pollution were banned from the port. Instead of replacing thousands of vehicles that they owned, trucking companies decided to pass that expense on to their drivers, borrowing money to buy trucks and then signing lease-to-own contracts with them.
2. Drivers don’t know what they’re getting into. One driver arrived from Guatemala in 1989 and began working right away. He spoke only Kanjobal, a Mayan language, and couldn’t read the contract that he signed. He was signing lease-to-own agreements, and not considered an employee.
3. Lease-to-own doesn’t work if drivers can’t afford their trucks. “Anybody could have told them if you mandate a driver pay for [the clean trucks], and they don’t earn enough, then the system isn’t going to work,” a labor lawyer in Sacramento told USA Today.
4. Trucking companies claim that allegations of poor treatment are part of union organizing campaigns. However, in 2015, the NLRB found that one firm that contracts for shoe company Skechers, Green Fleet Systems, condoned harassment and even violence against truckers who showed interest in joining a union [PDF].
A spokeswoman for Skechers told USA Today that the company is “unaware of labor or environmental violations by any trucking company at the port,” though activists have protested at Skechers offices.
5. Drivers are pushed into working really long hours. The driver from Guatemala says that he found the lot where he was supposed to leave his truck for the night locked. He had already been working for 15 hours, but kept driving since he had no place to leave the vehicle.
6. Companies settle wage theft accusations without admitting wrongdoing. USA Today found 60 cases where the transportation companies that move merchandise for major retailers and manufacturers lost their cases accusing them of wage theft in civil court or with the state labor commissioner.