Truck drivers choked traffic at Port of Auckland on Monday, protesting a state law that makes it harder for independent contractors to move goods and could curtail work at the state’s already-clogged ports, threatening to worsen the nation’s pandemic-fueled supply chain jumble.
California ports handle about 40% of containerized cargo entering the United States. The truckers’ strike comes at a time when unions and West Coast port employers 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. Independent truckers who now operate under the authority and insurance of companies that hire them for jobs will bear the heavy costs and red tape they will incur when the law is enacted.
“They want to wipe us out,” said independent driver Douglas Urtado, who participated in Monday’s protest at the Port of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Wayne Feng, wearing a “No to AB5” T-shirt, told Reuters the law would be so financially draining that drivers “do nothing.”
Legal challenges prevented AB5 from taking effect in 2020, but the U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected a petition by the California Trucking Association that claimed the law was blocked by federal regulations. Experts say an order that put the law on hold could soon be lifted.
More than 100 drivers and operators of small trucking companies opposing the law reached two terminal gates at the Port of Oakland, slowing the entry of trucks gradually. The action came as truckers in Los Angeles picketed the gates and snarled the streets at the nation’s busiest port complex last week.
Business owner Josue Mendez, 29, said AB5 would destroy the port’s trucking company, which relies on 10 independent drivers to haul everything from medical equipment to almonds.
“I can no longer hire them” and be in compliance with AB5, Mendez said.
Supporters of AB5, which includes the once-dominant trucking union Teamsters, say it would crack down on labor abuses by forcing owners to hire drivers as employees and provide workers’ compensation insurance and other benefits.
Industry groups representing about 20,000 truckers in Los Angeles and Oakland, including Association of Independent Owner-Operator Driversmade an unsuccessful attempt to persuade California Governor Gavin Newsom to delay enforcement of the law.
“Now that the federal courts have rejected the trucking industry’s appeals, it’s time to move forward,” Dee Dee Myers, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said in a statement.
California port trucking labor practices date back to the 1980s, when the United States deregulated trucking. This transformed the business from one dominated by large, unionized companies to the current model in which most companies rely on independent drivers, many of whom are recent immigrants.
Port drivers’ pay is now one-half to two-thirds less than it was before deregulation, according to an estimate by Wayne State University economics professor Michael Belzer. It is difficult to derive accurate figures for compensation because government data, particularly on hours worked, is incomplete, he said.
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