Trucking Carrier Sacks 26 Drivers for Organizing at the Port of Los Angeles

With his last $8 in his wallet, Alberto Quiteno, a truck driver at the Port of Los Angeles, said goodbye to his wife and teenage daughters last Friday and traveled 8,000 miles to Melbourne to plea to his employer, the Australian logistics giant, Toll Group, for humane working conditions in the United States.

In his carry-on, Alberto had carefully packed a petition signed by 62 (out of 75) co-workers that local management had previously refused to accept. Along with it was a copy of a letter he sent to Toll Group CEO Paul Little before his journey to outline the mistreatment and local management missteps. Hearing no response, Alberto headed to LAX and boarded a plane, joined by officials representing America’s largest transportation union, the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

It took an overseas pilgrimage to grab front-section seating at the $8.6 billion corporation’s annual shareholder meeting to nab the undivided attention of the top brass. Alberto even landed a meeting with Mr. Little and another top executive, CFO Brian Kruger. Mission accomplished? Wrong.The 17-year port driver was stunned to learn he had no job to return to once he flew home.

That’s right, after a 30-minute face-to-face and cordial encounter with the retiring executive and his successor, Quiteno—along with 25 other Toll drivers—were all sacked.

The final paychecks of “The Toll 26” were dated and cut on Thursday, October 27, when employees from both the day and night shifts, in a show of unity, clocked in to work wearing T-shirts of the union they desperately want to represent them. That same afternoon, 200 community residents, environmental and labor advocates picketed in support of the drivers outside the company’s San Pedro facilities, complete with 1,000 hand-gathered signatures urging justice for the workers who are the backbone of the port economy.

The workers filed another set of retaliation charges at the labor board on Monday, adding a new layer to an ongoing federal investigation. But first, some more backstory from Down Under.

The Toll shareholder meeting was quite the spectacle. Alberto’s allies roamed inside the halls circulating a new white paper by investor analysts with evidence that Toll’s instigation of a contentious low-road relationship with their truck drivers at American ports—at odds with their constructive labor approach in Australia—is a risky move that impairs the company’s reputation, operations, and relations with their retail customers.

Outside, Aussie Toll employees and officials from the Transport Workers Union staged a “sausage sizzle.” It was a lampoon-like BBQ fundraiser for their cash-strapped mates in the U.S., larded with a heavy point: Toll’s non-union employees at the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newark and New Jersey do not earn a fair day’s wage for a hard day’s work like their 12,000 unionized counterparts in Australia.

And in the virtual arena, the Teamsters and the Transport Workers Union together launched a website to detail the grim truth at Toll Group in their new joint effort, aptly titled GrimTruthAtTollGroup.com.

The result of Alberto’s presence and his backers? Mr. Little was forced to publicly defend his actions which include banishing his truck drivers to filthy, unsanitary outhouses that lack running water. There would be no “riding off into the sunset” for Mr. Little after what should have been his final “legacy” presentation to shareholders, thanks in part to the scrutiny and negative press of Toll’s U.S. operations.

American workers aren’t disposable. The Teamsters will fight this billion dollar foreign company until these drivers' collective bargaining rights are recognized so they can achieve the dignity and respect they deserve.

The Teamsters, in partnership with Transport Workers Union, are asking for your help to stop the mistreatment of workers at Toll Group. Join the fight and send an email to tell Toll Group manager Andrew Ethell to respect the rights of American workers to organize.