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Port trucking company agrees to $5M settling wage suit involving drivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 13:  A truck drives near City Hall to protest shipping container fees being assessed against independent truckers as part of the ports' Clean Truck Program to allow only newer, less-polluting trucks at the ports, on November 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The members of the National Port Drivers Association, who work the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,  formed caravans from the ports to City Hall in downtown Los Angeles to demonstrate against the fees that they say impact their wages and hours. In October, the Port of Long Beach and the American Trucking Assn. reached a settlement over disputed elements of the air pollution cleanup plan. The port drop requirements not directly related to cleaning up the environment such as a demand for trucking companies to file financial reports, and truckers agreed to emissions, safety and security requirements. In an effort to get rid of dirty trucks, the ban on all 1988 and older trucks from the ports remains and as of January, only 2004-or-later trucks will be allowed in the port complex. Thousands of trucks make daily trips into and out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles which make up the busiest seaport complex in the nation.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 13: A truck drives near City Hall to protest shipping container fees being assessed against independent truckers as part of the ports' Clean Truck Program to allow only newer, less-polluting trucks at the ports, on November 13, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The members of the National Port Drivers Association, who work the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, formed caravans from the ports to City Hall in downtown Los Angeles to demonstrate against the fees that they say impact their wages and hours. In October, the Port of Long Beach and the American Trucking Assn. reached a settlement over disputed elements of the air pollution cleanup plan. The port drop requirements not directly related to cleaning up the environment such as a demand for trucking companies to file financial reports, and truckers agreed to emissions, safety and security requirements. In an effort to get rid of dirty trucks, the ban on all 1988 and older trucks from the ports remains and as of January, only 2004-or-later trucks will be allowed in the port complex. Thousands of trucks make daily trips into and out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles which make up the busiest seaport complex in the nation. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2009 Getty Images)

A bankrupt trucking company has agreed to pay $5 million to settle allegations that it cheated hundreds of drivers who serve the Los Angeles and Long Beach seaports by misclassifying them as independent contractors.

Two activist groups had sued QTS Inc., its related companies and trustees for the owners, alleging the drivers were not classified as employees so the companies could avoid taxes and drivers would have to pay for truck maintenance, gas and insurance.

If approved by a judge next month, the settlement would apply to nearly 400 truckers, mainly Korean-Americans and Latino immigrants, according to a statement from the Wage Justice Center and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.

Messages left for lawyers representing the owners weren't immediately returned, but the settlement filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday doesn't acknowledge wrongdoing.

About 16,000 drivers work at the ports, most of them independent contractors for trucking companies. The truckers say they face shrinking wages and want to be acknowledged as employees, which they say would mean better wages and workplace protections. There have been several strikes and dozens of lawsuits in recent years.

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Trucking companies have argued that driver pay is good and picketing at the ports did not represent the majority of drivers.

"The trucking company dictated how much I got paid, which loads I took, and from whom, yet they denied that I was their employee," Victor Vitela, a former driver for QTS, said in a statement.

Minus expenses deducted from his paycheck, Vitela said he earned only a few hundred hours for an 80-hour workweek.

"Unfortunately, misclassification is the port industry norm," said Nicole Ochi, supervising litigation attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.

The suit also alleged that QTS used bankruptcy protections to avoid liability.

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