May 1, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Efforts to educate workers and employers about the new rules better distinguishing independent contractors from wage employees is shifting into high gear this week – and the results could impact about 30,000 truck drivers now operating on the roads today.
“For too long, New York’s roads and highways were a race to the bottom for commercial drivers,” said George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council No. 16. “Freight and delivery companies played fast and loose with their employees and got away with it. But no more.”
The New York State Commercial Goods Transportation Industry Fair Play Act which went into effect on April 10, establishes a new 11-point criteria that haulers must now meet in order to be legally classified as independent contractors.
According to some estimates, there are presently about 30,000 truckers operating in New York State misclassified as independent contractors. Proponents of the misclassification crackdown maintain that the practice of treating employees as independent contractors hurts workers, taxpayers and other employers who play by the rules.
Last year, The State Joint Enforcement Task Force on Employee Misclassification [JETF] identified nearly 24,000 instances of employee misclassification, discovered more that $333.4 million in unreported wages and assessed nearly $12.2 million in Unemployment insurance contributions.
Miranda and members of several IBT locals joined with NYS Department of Labor Commissioner Peter M. Rivera, NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, NYS Motor Truck Association President Kendra Hems and ALIGN Executive Director Matt Ryan at DOL headquarters on Wednesday morning to announce the start of a campaign aimed at enlightening truck drivers and their employers about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Play Act.
The new measure carries stiff penalties. Employers who repeatedly and knowingly cheat the system could face up to 60 days in jail, a $50,000 fine and being barred from performing public works for up to five years.
At this stage, the DOL says that it will rely on individuals “stepping forward and letting us know what’s going on out there," to help identify those flouting the law.
“What I have discovered, is that is basically the best way of getting information,” Rivera said. “We’re ready to investigate each and every incident that steps forward, and we have hundreds of people that work here that we can put on any given investigation.”
Cilento said the new law is about basic fairness, but that enforcement is, indeed, the “key element.”
“Today is a day that everyone can claim victory,” Cilento said. “We have thousands and thousands of laws on the books in the State of New York – but if they’re not enforced, they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.”
The Fair Play Act could have a major impact on the questionable status of many truck drivers servicing New York and New Jersey ports, as well as major package handlers like Fed ExGround.
“They’re going to have to meet this stringent law,” Miranda said.
In a statement to LaborPress, a FedEx Ground spokesperson said that the new Fair Play Act addresses the state’s concerns “while recognizing that legitimate business entities should be free to operate as independent contractors,” and that the company looks forward to “continuing to operate successfully in New York” as it has since its founding in 1985.
Hems said that the NYS Motor Truck Association is supportive of the Fair Play Act, but that truly independent contractors serve important roles, and that those that are legitimate should be allowed to flourish.
“The law that is currently being implemented we feel is fair,” Hems said. “It will address the need to level the playing field.”
Ryan called the new legislation “a major victory for truck drivers, port communities and the environment.”
“Ending the rampant misclassification of these workers as independent contractors will give thousands of drivers a shot at the middle class, hold the trucking industry accountable for replacing old polluting trucks, and reduce pollution in New York’s communities,” Ryan added.
It remains unclear just how many of the allegedly 30,000 misclassified truck drivers might ultimately be eligible for union affiliation.
The Fair Play Act’s 11-point criteria can be found at www.labor.ny.gov/transportationfairplay.