Around 450 protesters opposing AB5 were blocking all of the terminal gates at the Port of Oakland, forcing TraPac and the largest terminal operator, Oakland International Container Terminal, also known as SSA, to close operations on Wednesday.
“Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT) management decided to close operations today due to the independent trucker protest,” Roberto Bernardo, director of communications for the Port of Oakland, told FreightWaves in an email on Wednesday.
“The port’s other three marine terminals are effectively shut down for trucks as well,” he said. “There are some vessel labor operations underway.”
TraPac sent a message to drayage truckers that the terminal’s first shift wasn’t working Wednesday “due to ongoing protests interfering with the in-gate.”
The protesters’ message to California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday: “The cargo won’t flow until AB5 goes.”
“Gov. Newsom continues to ignore the independent truckers who are the backbone of America,” Kimberly Sulsar-Campos, vice president of Oakland-based Iraheta Bros. Trucking, told FreightWaves.
Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 — a controversial state law that seeks to limit the use of independent contractors and largely classify them as employee drivers — into law nearly three years ago. However, legal challenges prevented the law from going into effect in January 2020.
That all changed when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the California Trucking Association’s challenge to AB5 in late June, returning the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now, truckers say Newsom and the California legislature could exempt trucking from AB5 as they have done for other industries, including lawyers, real estate agents and accountants.
Proposition 22, which passed in November 2020, exempted app-based ride-share companies Uber and Lyft from AB5.
Port truckers carried signs saying, “We demand an exemption now. We deserve respect for keeping the world economy and the USA rolling.”
Iraheta Bros. was founded by a group of owner-operators who wanted to start their own trucking company, Sulsar-Campos said. The drayage company now has 20 owner-operators who oppose AB5 and want a choice about how to run their businesses.
“It’s very disheartening that other professions are exempt from this law but not small-business truckers, who move vital cargo that feeds the world,” she said.
On Tuesday, nearly 100 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 refused to cross the protest line as owner-operators in Oakland showed up early to block the gates of the SSA terminal.
“We are working without a contract right now so we support the owner-operators and understand what they are trying to do,” George, a nine-year ILWU member, who didn’t want to give his last name, told FreightWaves.
Initially, port drivers in Oakland planned a one-day protest Monday. However, they decided to demonstrate until Wednesday and possibly through the end of the week. They claimed Port of Oakland officials downplayed the impact of the protest by stating there was “some traffic congestion” at TraPac and SSA terminals, when in fact, the truckers shut down traffic at three of the terminals.
FreightWaves attended the Port of Oakland Truck Work Group meeting Monday where the truckers’ protest over AB5 was discussed.
At the meeting, Bill Aboudi, who owns Oakland-based AB Trucking, urged a port official in attendance not to minimize the disruption and economic effects the protest was having on the terminals’ business operations at the port.
“Downplaying the impact will upset the owner-operators more,” Aboudi said at the meeting, citing examples of how the Port of Oakland has responded to protests in the past.
Oakland protesters and owner-operators at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach own their own rigs and currently choose which loads they want to take. They don’t want to work as company drivers as many would be forced to do under AB5. Drivers protested at Los Angeles and Long Beach last week.
One independent contractor who serves the Port of Oakland said he would have to sell his house and move his family out of California if he’s forced to become an employee and be paid hourly.
“Have you seen the real estate prices for houses or rent in this state?” the 20-year port driver, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves. “On a good day, I can make $1,200, but if I go to work for a company and they only pay me $25 an hour and also control the number of hours I can work, I can’t afford to feed my family.”
The independent contractor law stems from the California Supreme Court’s decision against Dynamex Operations West Inc., a package and document delivery company. The court found that Dynamex had misclassified its delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees and that all California-based companies that use independent contractors must follow the “ABC test,” a three-pronged test to determine whether a worker is an employee.
The B prong defines an independent contractor as a worker engaged in “work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” That is problematic for motor carriers utilizing independent owner-operators to move freight.
Aboudi, who has six drivers who move containers in and out of the Port of Oakland, blasted AB5.
“Many drivers who work in the ports immigrated to this country so they could have a choice and the freedom to decide how and when they want to work,” Aboudi told FreightWaves. “This is a bad law because it takes away their choice to be an owner-operator and forces them to become a company driver. It’s un-American.”