(LOS ANGELES) – After years of protests, legal actions, and strikes by warehouse workers and port truck drivers at NFI Industries/California Cartage – which had a lease to operate on public property at America’s largest seaport – compelling the Los Angeles City Council and the City Attorney to take strong action leading to NFI’s abandonment of the property, the City Council today voted unanimously to demand that cargo owners like Lowe’s , Puma, and Rio Tinto Mines clean up their supply chains and move their business to trucking and warehousing companies that comply with labor and human rights standards that are embedded in their own corporate codes of conduct .
Specifically, on Wednesday, October 22, the L.A. City Council unanimously approved a motion introduced by Council Member Joe Buscaino to:
- Urge all port trucking and warehouse operators doing business on Port property to comply with all local, state, and federal laws, including laws regarding worker classification, wage and hour issues, labor rights, and health and safety;
- Demand that cargo owners enforce their codes of conduct and require the companies they contract with to move their goods to comply with labor and human rights standards;
- Urge retailers to move their work to a company who will meet their own standards and comply with all local, state, and federal laws; and,
- Encourage customers who left with the NFI/California Cartage warehouse to bring their work back to the community, to the same workers who previously moved their goods, and will soon be starting work with the Toll Group – the company that has taken over the property previously leased by NFI Industries.
“Over a century ago, Los Angeles fought to create a publicly-owned port that would serve the interests of the people at large. Today’s action by the City Council sends a loud and clear message that Port tenants who profit off the use of public property are expected to follow employment law and treat and pay their employees fairly so that all Angelenos benefit from this important City asset, as our early city leaders had envisioned,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino.
“The message being sent by the City Council is clear: If you want to do business in Los Angeles then you must follow the law and respect the human rights of working families,” said Ron Herrera, newly elected President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO . “The days when the interests of multi-billion dollar corporations like Lowe’s and Rio Tinto Mines were tacitly prioritized over the wellbeing of Los Angeles’ working families are over.”
“For years, we have shared our stories of the exploitation and abuse that took place on City property at the NFI/Cal Cartage warehouse. Under NFI, the warehouse looked like a prison and the company treated us like inmates. When we spoke up, we were met with retaliation and intimidation,” said Jeremy Hoke, a warehouse worker employed by NFI/Cal Cartage for 13 years who attended the Lowe’s shareholder meeting in April to urge them to stop doing business with NFI because of all its labor violations. “We endured a lot, but we stuck together and stood strong and now thanks to our actions and the support of allies like Councilmember Buscaino and all of the LA City Council, it is a new day at this warehouse. And thanks to the City’s Worker Retention Ordinance, we’re excited to now be getting back to work. We urge all the retailers whose cargo we reliably moved for decades, customers like Lowe’s, TJ Maxx, Amazon, and New Balance, to bring their work back to the warehouse and do business with the Toll Group.”
“This is an enormous step forward for port truck drivers and warehouse workers,” said Eric Tate, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 848 . “There is a new tenant at the warehouse, and a new lease with key standards to ensure workers are able to come back to work and that the new tenant, the Toll Group, will follow the law. I am confident that champions like Councilmember Buscaino and the LA City Council will hold the new tenant accountable to the laws of the land.”
California is at the forefront of a national movement to crack down on the illegal use of independent contractors, wage theft, and the abuse of worker rights. California Senate Bill 1402, which went into effect January 1, 2019, makes cargo owners jointly liable for wage theft claims against port trucking companies with outstanding final judgments. California Assembly Bill 5, which will go into effect on January 1, 2020, will make it even harder for companies like NFI to get away with breaking the law by continuing to misclassify their drivers as “independent contractors.”
NFI Industries – specifically the corporation’s subsidiaries at the Port of Los Angeles – is a proven lawbreaker, most recently having been found guilty of multiple labor violations at the NFI/California Cartage warehouse, including:
- Holding mandatory meetings with workers two days before a union election, threatening workers that if they voted for the Teamsters the warehouse would be closed or moved – an act that the judge determined was “Coercive and Unlawful.”
- Violating the law by prohibiting workers from speaking in favor of the union, retaliating against pro-union workers by denying them work, and threatening to call the police on a pro-union worker who was speaking out against racial discrimination.
NFI’s legal problems extend to the company’s harbor trucking operations and have put NFI/California Cartage Express (CCX) customer Rio Tinto Mines in serious legal jeopardy. The global mining company has a vendor Code of Conduct that sets clear standards for companies with which it contracts yet, despite ample evidence of lawbreaking at CCX including CA Labor Commissioner decisions for $3.7 million in wage theft, Rio Tinto continues to contract with NFI/CCX.
“Rio Tinto should drop NFI immediately and move its work to a company that will follow the law and come into compliance with its own code of conduct,” Tate said.