Independent port truck contractors receive more than $11M in settlement

Lawyer Conrado Sayas Jr. with port workers who won their class action suit

Lawyer Conrado Sayas Jr. with port workers who won their class action suit

Special Report by TheFILAMLA

A class action lawsuit on behalf of 540 port truck drivers of Shippers Transport Express, Inc. (STE) settled last week awarding class members a gross settlement amount of $11,040,000, according to its lead attorney Conrado “Joe” Sayas, Jr. There is one Filipino contractor in the lawsuit.

In a statement, Sayas, a graduate of the University of the Philippines and Georgetown University Master in Laws, said not only would the class members receive relatively high pay-outs, but more importantly, the contract workers will also be reclassified as employees.

Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell of the US Central District Court stated as a result of the reclassification, STE’s drivers will no longer be harmed by paycheck deductions for the costs of fuel, insurance, and other truck operating expenses.
Further, the contract workers will benefit from the greater rights accorded to employees under state law, including workers’ compensation and protection against unlawful discrimination; and will be entitled to certain benefits that they did not previously receive, such as health insurance and retirement.

Sayas said the settlement sets a precedent in paving the way for changes in trucking industry practices in the biggest port in the country. Based the Court ruling, the defendants being major players, in the port-trucking and marine terminal industries, would possibly impact other businesses to follow similar reclassification of their contractors’ employee status.

The contractors were from the ports of Long Beach/L.A. and Oakland. Long classified as independent contractors by companies who hired their services, and without the rights guaranteed by law to employees, the drivers launched a protracted strike and sought a change of their status.

“This is an important development in employment litigation,” said the litigator. “More than three years ago, I took this fight to court for the estimated 540 port truck drivers of Shippers Transport Express, Inc. (“STE”) and prosecuted the first class action on this matter. At that time, the legal landscape was unclear on whether we could win this case. The risks were certain, but the result was not.”

“We sued STE, and eventually sued its out-of-state sister corporation, SSA Marine Inc., the biggest marine terminal operator in North America. The lawyers made it clear to us at the beginning of the case that the companies will not change their independent contractor model. Without taking any money from our drivers, my team spent enormous amounts of time and resources, uncertain of the outcome in this case but believing in the merits of their claims.

“We worked through long years of hard-fought litigation against a formidable defense team of two prominent law firms. From the state court where we started, the case was removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act where it was further litigated and prepared ready for trial. At the eve of trial, however, we obtained settlement which was granted final approval by the federal court last week.”

Sayas stated that the Court Order further cites that due to the anticipated prolonged litigation and its inherent risks as well as the high value of the settlement’s monetary component, the Court finds that the settlement represents, on the whole, an exceptional recovery. When compared to settlements in similar cases, the average payout to each class member and the highest estimated payouts are far above average.

In addition to the significant back wages to be paid, the companies were required to reclassify the drivers as “employees,” achieving the objective that they have for so long fought. As employees, these drivers are no longer made to pay the expenses of fuel, insurance, and truck repairs – which Sayas said are costly deductions from their pay. With the unfair practices stopped, they are now paid for each and every hour worked, are provided with retirement benefits, paid medical and dental leaves, medical and dental insurance for the drivers, including their family dependents.

Sayas continued that “in view of the exceptional results achieved for the workers, the Court departed from the standard 25 percent attorney fee benchmark in federal court, and increased the fees to 33.33 percent.”

“I am privileged to have led this fight with my team, a case vigorously opposed by the employers, but one where the law ultimately prevailed to better the lives of those who most need its protection. In the end, hundreds of deserving workers (and others more to be hired), are and will be entitled to significant employment benefits.

“It is a great feeling to have made a difference in the lives of these workers and their families.”

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