Notes From the Underground Economy

Are companies at the Port of Long Beach cheating truckers out of their rightful wages?

*     *     *

Charles Criddell's open and confident approach to talking about his experience as a port trucker and a member of the underground economy is living proof of what truckers once had and what they currently face. The 59-year-old showed up in a Corvette for an interview for this story at a baseball field in Corona, where children were practicing their batting.

"I'm one of these kind of guys," says Criddell over the crack of the baseball bat. "I don't feel like I have to stay anywhere. When the opportunity knocks, I move."

Lining up for the day's loads
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Lining up for the day's loads
Coral Itzcalli: Advocate for troqueros
Kenneth M. Ruggiano
Coral Itzcalli: Advocate for troqueros

His entrepreneurial spirit has caused him to jump into many different businesses. In 1979, Criddell started driving a truck for Shell Oil in Wilmington as an employee with benefits. After being laid off, he found a job with Lucky Supermarkets and joined the Teamsters. He went to a couple of other trucking companies over 16 years as a union driver. But in the 1990s, he stopped trucking, switched careers and decided to work in real estate. "Am I going to make $400 to $500 a day—or am I going to make $5,000?" he asks rhetorically.

On his right hand is a ring worthy of a Super Bowl victory, a souvenir from his onetime travel business. Criddell says he made good money in real estate until the market crashed, and he decided to re-enter trucking. At the time, most companies required drivers to have three consecutive years under their belts, so he tried to work at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as an independent contractor. "I established the mindset of getting paid off your efforts," Cridell says. "So whatever I put in, I would get out. . . . I never wanted to put myself in a situation where I worked by the hour."

He believed that as an independent contractor, money would come in, that it all depended on his work ethic. The first company he worked for was Fox Transportation in Rancho Cucamonga. "To be perfectly honest with you," Criddell says, "I did well. I started in July 2009, and by July 2010, I grossed $208,000. In 2011, I grossed $108,000."

Criddell opens a folder and starts leafing through some paperwork. Criddell shows me his "Non-Sleeper" Vehicle Lease Agreement, a statement outlining deduction details, and a copy of his Independent Motor Carrier Agreement from Fox Transportation. While $208,000 sounds like a lot of money, the amount Criddell says actually went "in his pocket" was $60,000 to $70,000. Though it sounds like a good living, he says, he had to work more than the legal limit to make his desired income; 18-hour days on five hours of sleep were the norm.

"But I had to work that way in order to make the income," Criddell says. "Because [port companies] dictate what you get paid for each load. . . . Even though they want to call you an independent contractor, you can't go in there and say, 'I don't want to do this run for $200.' . . . You could negotiate that deal if you were truly an independent worker."

Fox Transportation's lease agreement stipulates the lessee can sublease the truck to another driver. But it also says the lessee has the right to take the truck to other companies, though before doing so, the lessee needs to take out a separate insurance policy.

While Criddell doesn't dispute anything in the contract, he maintains that to actually work for other companies was nearly impossible. "What made it difficult was that they said you could go out and do other work," Criddell says, "but before you can do that, you have to do 10 or 12 of their loads. . . . That meant you would have to work day and night."

Criddell no longer works for Fox Transportation or as an independent driver. He believes he was "fired," because the company thought he was talking to Teamsters and the labor board. Fox Transportation declined to comment.

"It's not about the money with me," Criddell says. "It's about the principle. This needs to be changed," he says. "I know that in order for this to change, certain people need to step forward. . . . What they're doing is unjust, and they need to be put on notice."

« Previous Page