Independent truckers block Port of Oakland to protest AB5 Gig work limits
Truckers choked off traffic in the Port of Oakland on Monday to protest a state law that makes it harder for independent contractors to haul goods and could limit labor at seaports already congested with the state, threatening to deepen the country’s supply chain lockdowns fueled by the pandemic.
California ports handle approximately 40% of containerized cargo entering the United States. The trucking disruptions come at a time when unions and employers at the West Coast port are also negotiating a high-stakes labor contract.
The law, known as Assembly Bill 5, or the gig worker law, sets stricter standards for classifying workers as independent contractors. Self-employed truckers who now operate under the authority and insurance of companies that hire them for jobs would be saddled with the high costs and bureaucracy of taking over when the law is enacted.
“They want to take us out,” said freelance driver Douglas Urtado, who joined Monday’s protest at the Port of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wayne Feng, wearing a “No on AB5” t-shirt, told Reuters the law would be so financially draining that drivers “won’t earn anything”.
Legal challenges prevented AB5 from taking effect in 2020, but the U.S. Supreme Court last month denied a motion by the California Trucking Association saying the law was blocked by federal regulations. Experts say an injunction that suspended the law could soon be lifted.
More than 100 drivers and operators of small trucking companies opposed to the law swarmed two terminal gates in the Port of Oakland, slowing truck entry to a trickle. The action came after Port of Los Angeles truckers picketed the gates and rumbled the roads at the nation’s busiest port complex last week.
Company owner Josue Mendez, 29, said AB5 would devastate his port trucking business, which relies on 10 independent drivers to move everything from medical equipment to almonds.
“I can’t hire them anymore” and be in compliance with AB5, Mendez said.
AB5 supporters, including the Teamsters union that once dominated trucking, say it will crack down on labor abuses by pushing owners to hire drivers as employees and provide workers’ compensation insurance and other advantages.
Industry groups representing about 20,000 truckers in the Ports of Los Angeles and Oakland, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, tried unsuccessfully to convince California Governor Gavin Newsom to delay enforcement. .
“Now that the federal courts have dismissed appeals from the trucking industry, it’s time to move forward,” Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic and Business Development, said in a statement. .
Port trucking labor practices in California date back to the 1980s, when the United States deregulated trucking. This has transformed the business from one dominated by large unionized companies to a current model in which most companies rely on independent drivers, many of whom are recent immigrants.
According to an estimate by Michael Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University, the wages of port drivers are now half to two-thirds lower than they were before deregulation. Obtaining accurate data on compensation is difficult because government data, especially on hours worked, is incomplete, he said.