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Stripping fair pay & safe workplaces exec. order from defense contracts will hurt workers

Today, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order goes into effect requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and to give agencies guidance on how to consider such violations when awarding federal contracts. I was excited to learn that President Obama was raising the bar for federal contractors. This could help millions of workers like me whose rights are being violated. I am a port truck driver for K&R Transportation/California Cartage, a leading logistics conglomerate at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, our nation’s largest port complex. My employer is a defense subcontractor that handles our nation’s military cargo like jeeps, tanks, and other equipment shipped to our service men and women overseas. My coworkers and I have been trying to get our employer to stop violating our rights. Within the past year, federal and state government agencies have begun listening, by issuing “serious” complaints for violating health and safety, wage theft, discrimination, and our efforts to organize.

I emigrated from El Salvador to the United States in 1979 in hopes of a better life for myself and ultimately the family I would create here. Nineteen years ago, just after my daughter was born, I became a port truck driver for K&R/California Cartage and was sold snake oil disguised as the American dream. I was promised that if I worked hard, I would be able to make a good living and provide for my family. But that dream has been nothing more than a cruel illusion because the reality was that my coworkers and I were swindled into becoming responsible for just about all of our employers’ business expenses and told we were “independent contractors” while in reality we are controlled like any other employee. We are truck drivers working for a trucking company, of course we are employees; it’s just common sense.

{mosads}In August, I was involved in a collision between three big rigs on the freeway. The other two drivers were killed; I survived but was badly injured. My body is now broken and I have not been able to work since the accident. But because K&R tries to maintain that I am an “independent contractor,” I was told I did not have the right to receive disability or workers’ compensation benefits. I had over [$40 thousand?] in medical expenses that I could not pay. My family and I were in danger of losing our home. But once the government reviewed my case, they realized that I am a misclassified employee and entitled to disability and workers’ compensation benefits.

My example is just the tip of the iceberg. My employer has been fined over $11 thousand for not abiding by safe workplace standards. There have been several sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits. The company was also issued a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board for intimidating and threatening workers for attempting to organize.

The United States military routinely contracts with private trucking and warehouse companies like my employer to move equipment that helps our service men and women defend our country. I am proud that my company helps the military, but my coworkers and I are fed up that our company, and many others like it, have been able to repeatedly violate our rights, especially when it continues to receive taxpayers dollars to move military cargo.

That is why my coworkers and I are going on strike today to protest the unfair treatment our employer has been able to get away with for far too long.

I strongly urge the Congress to resist pressure from defense contractors to exempt themselves from the Fair Pay Executive Order in the reconciliation of the 2017 NDAA bill. Defense contractors employ thousands of truck drivers and warehouse workers who are abused, denied their rights, work in unsafe conditions, and have their wages stolen. They should be held to the highest standards, not the lowest.

On behalf of the hard-working men and women in the U.S. supply chain that handle cargo for the U.S. Department of Defense and our nation’s retailers, we urge our leaders to stand strong and help us achieve our dreams, the real American dream.

Jaime Martinez is a port truck driver employed by K&R Transportation, a subsidiary of the California Cartage Company. He, like all of the drivers in the myriad of drayage companies owned by California Cartage, is misclassified as an independent contractor.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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