California port truckers sue over independent contractor status

A lawsuit that alleges Harbor Express Inc. — one of the largest trucking companies servicing Southern California ports — misclassified hundreds of truck drivers as independent contractors to avoid providing rest breaks and overtime pay was filed this week on behalf of two truck drivers who are seeking class action status.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said it could affect as many as 400 truck drivers who worked for the Wilmington-based company since May 2009.

The complaint alleges that Harbor Express, which serves the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, misclassified hundreds of truck drivers as independent contractors so the firm wouldn't have to provide worker benefits such as rest breaks and overtime pay, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

The civil suit, filed May 13 by brothers Jose I. Estrada, 58, and Jose A. Estrada, 48, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges truck drivers act as direct employees, driving company-owned trucks exclusively for Harbor Express.

“It looks like a traditional employment, but they slap the title of independent contractors on them,” said Brian Kabateck, one of the lawyers who filed the case.

“If they were truly independent contractors, they would own the truck or lease it,” Kabateck said. They would also “have freedom to come and go and can take on other jobs and assignments. This is just a clever way to do a runaround of labor law.”

In 2008 California began cracking down on trucking companies that misclassified employees as independent contractors and at least five lawsuits have been filed by the state against trucking companies that allegedly circumvented state labor laws.

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