The city of Los Angeles filed three lawsuits against some of the busiest port trucking companies in the country Monday, demanding they stop systematically exploiting their workers in the wake of reports by the USA TODAY Network.
City Attorney Mike Feuer alleged CMI Transportation, K&R Transportation, and California Cartage Transportation Express represent industry leaders that knowingly violate state labor laws. Also, the “devastating practices” meant to increase administrators’ bottom lines while driving their workers into debt.
“This abuse, this disgraceful exploitation has to stop,” Feuer said at a news conference Monday. “We’re trying to create systemic change, and we’ll continue to investigate other companies as well,” Feuer added.
The three companies are part of the California Cartage family of outfits recently bought by New Jersey-based NFI Industries. Those companies helped spearhead the lease-to-own contracts that became pervasive across the industry.
Denying workers fair wages and benefits to pad profit margins is unacceptable, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We will not stand for it in Los Angeles,” he added.
The lawsuit seeks penalties, restitution and a prohibition against practices that lead to worker exploitation, according to the complaints.
Representatives from NFI and California Cartage did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday about the suits filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“I would question the standing or merit of this lawsuit, but that is for the courts to decide,” said Weston LaBar, the chief executive officer of the Harbor Trucking Association, who called the state’s history of judgments in favor of port truckers “completely one-sided.”
“This most recent effort by the city attorney does nothing more than validate that in my mind,” LeBar said.
To avoid the cost, many companies pushed their independent drivers into lease-to-own contracts that they did not understand.
In case drivers got sick or fell behind on payments, trucking companies fired them, seizing their trucks and tens of thousands of dollars they had paid toward buying them.
Monday’s legal action is the latest in a wave of changes affecting the port trucking industry in recent months following the USA TODAY Network’s coverage.
Trucking organizations exposed in the network’s reporting have lost business. No less than one executive resigned. State and federal offices have launched examinations concerning potential worker exploitation and forced labor, and lawmakers have introduced sweeping national and state changes to check precise labor abuse in the industry.