The Big Rig Overhaul


In this report, 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.

That has now changed. Our findings match those coming from recent investigations of employ-
ment practices common in the industry by the United States Department of Labor, the Internal
Revenue Service, the National Labor Relations Board, and various state agencies. More
importantly, these investigations signal a new dynamic, one with practical ramifications for the
organization of work in the industry as well as for broader discussions of inequality in this country.