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Public hearing held for port workers being labeled as 'independent contractors'

Published: Jul. 21, 2015 at 8:37 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2015 at 8:53 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - We all know the ports are a big part of Savannah's economy, but some who work there are upset and calling for more regulation on trucking companies.

A number of truck drivers are saying they are being classified unfairly, and that their employers are committing fraud.

The issue at-hand is employee misclassification, which is when an employer deliberately labels a worker as an "independent contractor" in order to avoid taxes and regulation. Truck drivers hope Tuesday's hearing is a step towards justice.

"We have drivers coming, they drive almost two hours just to get here to be mistreated; to be misclassified," said Lynell Oates, truck driver.

Testimony after testimony like that one, was the focal point of the hearing, which went before a Georgia Senate Committee studying employee misclassification throughout the state.

A local truck driver union estimates about 2,000 of their members in Savannah are misclassified as "independent contractors," when they are, in fact, employees. And, for some drivers, that mis-labeling can be life changing.

"We don't get to pay into a lot of benefits. At the end of the day, God forbid this doesn't happen, but when I'm 60 or 70, what do I do? Drive until I die," asks Carol Cauley, truck driver.

By classifying employees as contractors, a company avoids paying certain taxes and benefits, which ultimately costs other companies that play by the rules -- as well as tax payers.

"If we're not recovering all the money that's due under our current tax system, we're raising taxes on hard-working people without gathering all the revenue that's due to the state, so I think that's something that every Georgian should be concerned about," said Senator Josh McKoon, "R," Columbus.

However, some are worried that if future legislation is poorly written, it could hurt owner-operators who want to be entrepreneurs.

"I guess it's the old cliché of the baby and the bathwater. There are thousands and thousands of people who are independent business people, running their own trucking operations as owner-operators that do a good job, making a good living, building businesses, and want to keep that freedom," said Ed. Crowell, President/CEO, Georgia Motor Trucking Association.

But, many drivers who testified on Tuesday, disagreed. The public comment section of the hearing was dominated by truckers who voiced their concerns about out-of-state companies taking advantage of them.

They're hoping lawmakers will hear their concerns and act. They showed up in numbers at a public hearing on Tuesday to ask a Georgia Senate Committee for justice.

The union held a press conference inside the commission building, and it shared similar sentiments, that getting fair pay and treatment is a process and this process has been a long time coming.

"This is amazing, you know," said truck driver John Jackson. "It's just heartfelt. I almost want to come to tears right now. But we're going to keep up the fight until we get it done, because we didn't come so far not to do it."

The committee is going to meet two more times before publishing a report on their findings. The union members hope this will lead to new legislation as soon as next year.

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