Extra Jolt: Trucking Company Makes Concessions to Contractors, Including Bathroom Rights

By Josh Feit April 25, 2012

Western Ports Transportation, Inc., one of the trucking companies that allegedly harassed and retaliated against contract truckers for supporting labor rights bills in Olympia, has reached a settlement with one worker—granting him and the company's independent contractors key concessions.

You may remember early last February, labor Democrats pushed a pair of bills that would have given independent truckers at the Port of Seattle the same workers' comp and unemployment benefits as those employed by the trucking companies  and would have made the companies responsible for dangerous and faulty cargo. The independent truckers are in a fix because they  have to pay for their own trucks, their own gas, and their own insurance and are often fined for carrying faulty cargo containers; these are mostly immigrant workers from Africa just trying to get a foothold in the economy.[pullquote]"Restroom Facilities. Respondent agrees that Complainant and his co-workers may use Western Port Transportation, Inc.'s restroom facilities as needed."[/pullquote]

The reason you might remember these bills is because after a group of independent truckers went down to Olympia to testify in support, the trucking companies retaliated, truckers said, by harassing them with dangerous loads and then suspending them for balking. A major "wildcat strike" ensued. (The workers are not unionized because they're not employees ... a bit of a Catch-22 in their efforts to improve their working conditions, which include no workers' comp or unemployment and lack of access to port terminal bathrooms.)

Shortly after the strike, on February 17, one trucker, Demeke “Yared” Meconnen, filed a harassment complaint against trucking company Western Ports Transportation Inc. with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA. Meconnen filed the complaint in person, verbally, at the local OSHA office.

Summarizing his complaint, Meconnen said:
I went to Olympia to testify for the misclassification bill and it happened that my boss was there. A week later there was another hearing for equipment safety. Me and another 150 drivers went to Olympia to support the bill. The next morning I went back to work I got a question from my dispatcher. “Where were you yesterday?” I told them straight up that I went to Olympia.

And then for a punishment they gave me a load that was heavy. Unsafe. I don’t have the right equipment. I refused the load. When I refused the load they retaliated. They suspended me and told me to take the rest of the week off. When that happened the other 24 fellow drivers, followed me, they refused their loads. But then at the end of the shift they sent me a text  that said I could come back to work tomorrow.

Earlier this month, Meconnen and Western Ports reached a settlement including a $500 payment to Meconnen. More important, though, the company agreed to some workplace concessions:

• They agreed to increase pay for roundtrip pay by $5 for the containers moved between ports. (Independent truckers can only work for one company and are often stuck without a return cargo (known as a backhaul), and wasting hours and gas, cargo-less on return trips.)

• Addressing the same problem, Western Ports agreed that when drivers start their day in Tacoma or end their day in Tacoma without a backhaul, the driver be paid $15 to get back to Seattle.

• They agreed that independent truckers may inspect their vehicles at any location on Port or Port terminal property, and they agreed not to retaliate against truckers who conduct vehicle inspections.

• They agreed that they wouldn't say anything to a third party (such as another potential employer) that could damage the name, character, or employment of any trucker who has filed a complaint against a trucking company.

• They agreed to post whistleblower protection standards prominently around work sites.

• And while not as technical, the independent contractors got a serious win: "Restroom Facilities. Respondent agrees that Complainant and his co-workers may use Western Port Transportation, Inc.'s restroom facilities as needed."
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