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The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be felt throughout the supply chain, and a recent report reveals that Southern California’s port trucking industry is failing to provide drivers with necessary protections.

The report, Cargo in Crisis: Covid-19’s Impact on Southern California Port Truck Drivers, released by Change to Win last week, found that over 80% of port drivers report they don’t receive paid sick days and 70% feel that their trucking companies are not doing enough to keep them safe on the job.

This failure to protect port drivers may forebode a failure to protect our supply chains. The virus has already exposed a weakness in the food supply chain. The New York Times recently reported on how employers were not taking proper precautions to safeguard their workers, putting the nation’s food supply at risk. The article, U.S. Food Supply Chain Is Strained as Virus Spreads, shows how hundreds of workers were infected with Covid-19 at several meat processing plants and how the eventual shutdown of those plants could put our food supply in jeopardy. The article goes on to state the enormous pressure being put on the trucking industry which had to deal with panic buying, while also dealing with an ongoing driver shortage problem

The port trucking industry appears ripe for such a breakdown. As revealed in the report, which published the results of an online survey of nearly 700 port Southern California port truck drivers:

• 70% of port drivers feel that the trucking companies are not doing enough to keep them safe on the job
• 64% report that they have not received any virus safety information or supplies.
• 82% of drivers say they have no paid sick days.
• 84% of drivers do not have health insurance coverage through their port trucking job.
• 68% of port drivers report receiving less pay in the last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic as cargo volumes have dropped and wait-times have increased.
(click here for a copy of the full report)

At the root of this systemic neglect is the persistent misclassification of drivers as “independent contractors.” This misclassification – which continues to be proven in the courts and regulatory agencies, most recently in a decision from the National Labor Relations Board finding the entire workforce of a major port trucking company to be employees has had a double impact on drivers.

With official numbers reporting container volume down over 25% at the Port of Los Angeles and at least 6% at the Port of Long Beach, misclassified drivers were initially disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits as their jobs were cut or their paychecks reduced. So while they are essential workers, thousands of port drivers have been earning less – but in many cases still on the hook for truck expenses that pile up whether or not they are working, creating a disincentive to stay home.

As the virus spreads, they also do not have access to any other safety net programs available to workers who are properly classified as employees such as paid sick days, family leave, or most critically health insurance. If they continue to work, they risk exposing themselves and their families to the virus because their employers are not providing them with the proper personal protective equipment or training.