Port Truckers In Savannah, Ga., Support Calif. Protest

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Truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began a 48-hour protest on Monday. The demonstrations are over what they call widespread workplace violations and unfairly low pay.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with a truckers strike.

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INSKEEP: Truck drivers who bring cargo into and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach began a 48-hour protest on Monday. It's over the fact that any of the truckers' employers classify them as contractors instead of employees. The truckers say that costs them pay, and also labor protections.

There was also a demonstration of the other side of the country, near the port of Savannah, Ga., where truckers are making similar demands.Georgia Public Broadcasting's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: About a year ago, truck driver Vlademir McKeithen says he'd just finished a job and was cleaning out a trailer when he fell out and hurt his back.

VLADEMIR MCKEITHEN: Prognosis is a long rehab, a long recovery; still in a lot of pain, tremendous pain - not able to walk unassisted yet.

MCCAMMON: McKeithen came in a wheelchair to the protest, which included several dozen truckers. Like most drivers at the nation's ports, McKeithen is an independent contractor. That means no workers compensation or disability pay from his employer. Teamsters organizer Ben Speight says contract truckers want to be classified as employees so they can form unions to negotiate pay and benefits.

BEN SPEIGHT: They're controlled as employees, they're directed as employees, they're paid as employees. They're integral to the operation of these trucking companies just like employees are and as such, they should have the rights of employees to be able to negotiate their pay.

MCCAMMON: After drivers pay for fuel and maintenance for their trucks, Speight says many earn less than minimum wage. But an industry spokesman says if drivers want the benefits of full-time employees, they should apply for full-time jobs. Curtis Whalen is with the American Trucking Associations.

CURTIS WHALEN: It is a tough profession, for sure. But it is a profession that you can make a good, decent living if you work hard.

MCCAMMON: Trucker Vlademir McKeithen says with his back injury, he can't work for himself - or anyone else - right now. Drivers on both coasts are hoping their companies will upgrade them from workers to employees.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Savannah.

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