WILMINGTON, Calif. — More than 300 port truck drivers, warehouse workers and their supporters held a rally and march in this port town Oct. 3 at the end of a three-day strike against XPO Logistics and NFI Industries. The drivers and warehouse workers are fighting to win recognition of the Teamsters as their union, to improve conditions for temporary and permanent workers, and to force the companies to admit that so-called independent truckers are actually their employees.
The union decided to combine the strike with the fight against White House orders terminating Temporary Protected Status, which allows workers from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Sudan to live and work legally in the U.S. Many port drivers and warehouse workers will be disqualified from working and threatened with deportation if their TPS status is withdrawn.
“It’s very important that the demand about TPS was included,” Jose Rodriguez, a warehouse worker for Cal Cartage, which also employs many of the truckers, told the Militant. The port workers who have TPS “face a terrible crisis, worrying about what will happen to their families if it is ended.” Cal Cartage was recently taken over by NFI.
“I hope all the unions will join in this cause,” he said.
That morning six big Teamster-driven rigs led workers in a protest outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, where many immigrants are held before deportation.
“We’re a little late and we were never at the front, but when the dynamics of our people changed we had to change with it,” Ron Herrera, vice president of the Western Region for the Teamsters, told BuzzFeed News. “We realized a majority of workers we’re trying to organize are TPS holders and immigrants. A lot of them were predominantly immigrant Hispanic.”
Members of other unions and immigrant rights groups took part. The construction industry employs the largest number of workers covered by TPS and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades backed the protest.
“People come to this country and they want to work and I’m not the immigration police,” Ken Rigmaiden, general president of the Painters union, told BuzzFeed. The union is open to anyone, regardless of where they were born and raised, he said, adding that it’s important we stand up for our members when it comes to TPS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
The port drivers are fighting to be classified as employees. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of trucking companies that deploy 17,000 trucks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach classify their drivers as independent contractors. As so-called contractors, federal labor law prohibits them from joining a union.
Rodriguez has been among those warehouse workers at Cal Cartage who have been fighting for years for higher wages, safer conditions and union representation. “We work unloading for big, wealthy companies — Amazon, Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot,” he said. “After 25 years, I make $16 an hour. It’s not a just wage.”
Many of the workers are hired through a temp agency, he said, and they make even less.
After the protest at the detention center, workers organized a car caravan and drove 20 miles to the waterfront for the rally.
The day ended with a civil disobedience action blocking the busy intersection of the Harry Bridges entrance to the I-110 Freeway. Some 50 union supporters were arrested, in an arrangement set up beforehand with the cops.