Jerry Brown (D)
LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline)-Since February, California Attorney General Jerry Brown has been taking dead aim at trucking companies working out of California ports for their abusive treatment of employees.
The investigation has resulted in five lawsuits over abusive practices filed so far, and Brown has made no secret of his intent to push the investigation further.
But now, those under siege have started fighting back.
On Monday, an international trucker based out of Long Beach, Calif., claimed the lawsuit Brown filed against it is nothing more than an attempt by a politician seeking higher office to curry favor with the Teamsters.
Pac Anchor, one of five companies sued by Brown, said its workers are independent contractors, "free to determine whether they work or not work, to accept a job or reject it for any reason," according to a statement released by the company.
Brown's suits allege that companies like Pac Anchor deny workers compensation benefits, overtime pay and other benefits required by state law.
"These companies take advantage of their workers by failing to provide them with state-mandated protections and benefits," Brown said in September. "Truck drivers at the ports work long hours under tough conditions. By unlawfully classifying workers as 'independent contractors,' these companies deny their employees important worker protections."
Brown said the practice was a "shell game" designed to circumvent state employee laws and taxes.
Pac Anchor responded to these accusations saying the only game being played is by the Attorney General who is widely expected to run for governor in 2010.
Beginning in February 2008, the attorney general's office authorized a task force to investigate trucking companies at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports. The investigation uncovered numerous state labor law violations committed by several trucking companies operating at the ports.
The lawsuits allege the companies control all aspects of the drivers' work. They own and maintain the trucks the workers drive. Drivers are paid by the hour and often forced to work 60 hours or more a week, a claim Pac Anchor denies.
"The company is informed and believes that the plaintiff, for political gain, is seeking to use its police powers to fundamentally alter and invalidate existing employment relationships," a statement from Pac Anchor stated on Monday.
The lawsuits, the company asserted, would make way for the Teamsters to unionize the contractors as employees of the company.
Brown is no stranger to accusations of political gamesmanship. Similar accusations were made by frustrated builders in Stockton, Calif., after Brown intervened on the city's General Plan to make it more environmentally friendly and again when Brown supported Indian casinos' desire to avoid further regulation.
When asked about the accusations, Brown told Legal Newsline in September, "They can say that about anything I do."
Brown, 70, served as California's governor from 1975 to 1983. He ran for president three times, including in 1992 when he came in second to Democratic Nominee Bill Clinton.
In the late 1990s he jumpstarted his political career anew by being elected the mayor of Oakland, a crime-ridden city across the bay from San Francisco. As mayor he started many energy efficiency and downtown revitalization programs before being elected as attorney general in 2006.
Since June Brown has been aggressively raising money and securing endorsements for a likely run to return the governor's mansion. In polls for more than six months, Brown leads all Democratic contenders except U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who also may be interested in running.