University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Big Rig Overhaul: Restoring Middle-Class Jobs at America's Ports Through Labor Law Enforcement

Type Policy Brief or Report
Year 2014
Level City or Town
State(s) California
Policy Areas Civil Rights, Economic Justice, Transportation & Mobility
In The Big Rig: Poverty, Pollution, and the Misclassification of Truck Drivers at America’s Ports, we examined changes in labor practices in the port trucking industry. These changes, originating in the 1970s, have led to the development of an industry characterized by “fierce competition, ever-increasing service requirements, a contingent workforce, poverty level wages, no health care coverage, rampant safety violations, [and] ineffective or illusory enforcement.” Such conditions are now increasingly common among American workers and feature prominently in debates about burgeoning inequality in the country. Our research found the dire working conditions of port truck drivers to have flowed from the practice of treating employees as if they were ‘independent contractors,’ an illegal practice called misclassification. At the time, there were practically no official government investigations to verify our findings despite a host of enforcement agencies being responsible for preventing misclassification.

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