USA: Los Angeles port truck drivers allege wage & labour violations in Rio Tinto supply chain; Includes company responses

Port truck drivers in California are alleging wage and labour violations due to unlawful misclassification by NFI Industries and its subsidiary, Cal Cartage Express, as independent contractors rather than employees. NFI is a logistics provider for global mining company Rio Tinto, hauling borates from the Rio Tinto mine in Boron to the Port of Los Angeles.

Source: Justice for Port Drivers

According to labour groups, missclassication of drivers as independent contractors leaves them earning as little as $3 an hour, despite working 50+ hours per week. Many of the drivers end their work week in debt after fuel, insurance, new tires, and lease payments are deducted, leaving many unable to quit their jobs - particularly as they risk losing the equity they have in their trucks.

The drivers have staged several strikes, filed complaints with California's Department of Labour Standards Enforcement and have met with Rio Tinto to demand an end to wage theft due to their misclassification as independent contractors and enforcement of the Rio Tinto’s Supplier Code of Conduct in its USA supply chain.

In April 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Rio Tinto and NFI Industries to respond to labour allegations made by port truck and warehouse workers. Rio Tinto responded that it takes the allegations against NFI Industries and its subsidiary Cal Cartage Express seriously and has asked NFI Industries to demonstrate that they are meeting its Supplier Code of Conduct. NFI Industries responded that the allegations are "unfounded". Both responses are included below. 

UPDATE [February 2020]: We received a rejoinder from Justice for Port Drivers Campaign, who say port truck drivers are 'disappointed' at the lack of action by Rio Tinto over ongoing wage and labour concerns. The full rejoinder is below. We invited Rio Tinto and NFI Industries to provide an update on the situation; they did not. 

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All components of this story

NGO rejoinder
10 February 2020

USA: Port truck drivers 'disappointed' at lack of action by Rio Tinto over ongoing labour & wage concerns in its logistics supply chain

Author: Justice for Port Drivers Campaign

... Drivers continue to be disappointed at Rio Tinto’s lack of action...

Rio Tinto launched a “third party” investigation in 2019 into the concerns raised by drivers; however Rio Tinto did not share the results of that investigation and continues to do business with Cal Cartage Express. Port drivers that have spoken out and gone on strike even while the “third party” investigation was ongoing found that they were further discriminated against by Cal Cartage Express in that instead of being extended the standard six month work contract, they are now under a one month agreement. This is in apparent violation of federal labor laws, and an investigation into the matter is currently underway by... the National Labor Relations Board.

... [To date at] least 15 wage claim cases have been heard by the CA Division of Labor Standards Enforcement... where close to $4 million has been awarded to Cal Cartage Express port drivers in unpaid wages and penalties... In addition, the Los Angeles Office of Wage Standards continues to investigate claims that Cal Cartage Express is in violation of the Los Angeles minimum wage and paid sick day ordinance...

Download the full document here

Article
24 December 2019

USA: Rio Tinto continues to use logistics supplier despite ongoing struggle by port truck drivers over labour rights concerns

Author: Nelson L. Castorillo & Paul Michael Neuman, Random Lengths News

"A Holiday Message in Support of Port Drivers' Fight for Justice", 20 December 2019

... [T]he dedicated truck drivers that haul the heavy containers of borax from the [Rio Tinto] mine in the Mojave Desert to the ports of LA and Long Beach are not even paid minimum wage for every hour worked and the hours can be long and hazardous...

[In September] workers set up picket lines up at the... truck yard in Los Angeles and at the Rio Tinto mine in Boron [while] two drivers — Flavio Acosta and Jesus Maldonado — took their concerns straight to Rio Tinto’s headquarters... to deliver a petition with 5,000 signatures from allies... urg[ing] Rio Tinto to... stop doing business with... [California Cartage Express, a subsidiary of NFI Industries] due to its violation of Rio Tinto’s Supplier Code of Conduct...

Rio Tinto management... [said] they are investigating the issues but didn’t commit to anything... Rio Tinto continues to do business with NFI/CCX and the drivers are still fighting for their rights, at their workplace and in the courts...

Read the full post here

Article
12 September 2019

Commentary: Rio Tinto Global Code of Conduct put to test by labour & wage violations in USA

Author: Jessica Durrum, Port Innovations

"GLOBAL CODES OF CONDUCT PUT TO THE TEST BY CA DRIVER MISCLASSIFICATION", 12 September 2019

... Rio Tinto is the latest example of companies that have been trying to clean up their act across the globe and are now facing scrutiny of their supply chains here in the United States.

...Rio Tinto’s trucking contractor.... NFI-owned Cal Cartage Express, (NFI/CCX), has a long record of labor and wage violations... [T]he California Labor Commissioner has found 14 NFI/CCX drivers to be employees – not independent contractors...

[D]rivers [and warehouse workers] walked out [again]... to protest unfair labor practices... [T]he company recently moved [from its]... warehousing and trucking operation on Port of LA property... after the City moved to require that the company agree to provisions to protect against further labor disruptions...

[A]n administrative law judge [has] issued a decision finding that Cal Cartage management... unlawfully threatened workers...

The persistent labor and wage violations at NFI/CCX and reports of indentured servitude within the port drayage industry have activists questioning whether codes of conduct like Rio Tinto’s actually mean anything... 

Read the full post here

Company response
6 May 2019

Rio Tinto's response

Author: Rio Tinto

... Rio Tinto takes the allegations against NFI Industries and its subsidiary Cal Cartage Express seriously. We have asked NFI Industries to demonstrate that they are meeting our Supplier Code of Conduct and they are actively working to respond to our request.

Senior executives from Rio Tinto also met a delegation from the Teamsters in London recently to hear their concerns, and answered questions from the delegation at the Rio Tinto Plc annual general meeting on 10 April 2019. Rio Tinto continues to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Teamsters and related stakeholders in regards to this matter. While we will work to ensure our Supplier Code of Conduct is being upheld, we are also encouraging NFI and the Teamsters to resolve these issues directly with each other. 

 

Download the full document here

Company response
25 April 2019

NFI Industries' response

Author: NFI Industries

California Cartage Express is committed to complying with all laws and the company is in full compliance with the Rio Tinto Supplier Code of Conduct. These unfounded allegations that are being made against the company are part of an ongoing effort by the Teamsters union to force independent truck drivers throughout California to organize against their will.

Download the full document here

Article
15 April 2019

USA: Rio Tinto agrees to investigate after port truck drivers in its supply chain raise labour rights concerns at AGM

Author: Justice for Port Drivers & Teamsters

"UPDATE: Truck Drivers Who Haul Borax For Rio Tinto To Attend Rio Tinto's AGM", 15 April 2019

U.S.-Based Truck Drivers Who Haul Borax For Rio Tinto Attend UK Annual General Meeting, Demand Enforcement Of Company’s “Supplier Code of Conduct” In U.S. Supply Chain; Rio Tinto Chairman Publicly Agrees To Investigate and Take Action to Enforce Code of Conduct

... On Wednesday, April 10, 2019, a delegation of contract truck drivers who haul borax from the Rio Tinto mines in Boron, CA, to the Port of Los Angeles, together with Teamster leaders, attended the company’s Annual General Meeting in London, England. The drivers, who are employed by Rio Tinto’s contract drayage carrier California Cartage Express, a division of NFI Industries, attended the meeting with Teamster officials to demand an end to wage theft due to their misclassification as independent contractors (rather than employees) and enforcement of the Rio Tinto’s Supplier Code of Conduct in their U.S. supply chain...

Read the full post here

Item
15 March 2019

USA: Labour group sends letter to Rio Tinto raising concerns of labour violations in supply chain

Author: Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE)

... I write to you... to call your immediate attention to the labour and human rights violations committed by NFI Industries and its subsidiary, Cal Cartage Express... I call on Rio Tinto to enforce its Supplier Code of Conduct and end its business relationship with NFI Industries...

Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) has been part of numerous attempts to raise concerns directly with NFI Industries over the course of several years...

Drivers and warehouse workers have gone on strike seven times over unfair labour practices, filed numerous complaints with California's Department of Labour Standards Enforcement and delivered petitions to NFI Industries management and yet NFI Industries has not taken these concerns seriously. NFI continues to misclassify drivers as independent contractors and therefore has several outstanding complaints by port truck drivers and warehouse workers concerning wage theft, minimum wage violations and even unfair competition laws in California...

Download the full document here

Item
26 September 2018

USA: CSOs send letter to Rio Tinto raising concerns over forced labour in port trucking industry

Author: International Labor Rights Forum & other CSOs

... We write... about a significant forced labor problem in the port trucking industry... affecting... tens of thousands of port truckers across the U.S... trapped in unethical employment agreements that can leave them earning as little as $3 an hour... despite working 50+ hours per week. Many drivers even end their work week in debt because their employers deduct fuel, insurance, new tires, and lease payments that can exceed what they were paid to haul freight containers filled with your merchandise.... [T]his situation run[s] afoul of U.S. labor laws... [and] these employment agreements... often leave workers unable to quit their jobs because they risk losing all the equity they have in their truck.

... The landmark Clean Truck Program... required replacing... old polluting trucks... [B]ecause the trucking companies unlawfully misclassified the drivers as independent contractors, the costs of implementation was pushed onto the backs of thousands of drivers through unconscionable leasing schemes...

Over 1,000 port drivers have filed wage complaints with California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement... which has awarded drivers over $46 million in back pay and penalties... [W]e ask that your company develop and implement a Responsible Contractor Policy in partnership with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for all contracted logistics services throughout your global value chains...

Download the full document here