CA port truckers protesting new contractor laws

(NewsNation) —  Hundreds of independent California truckers have been backing up traffic on local freeways for hours all day, outraged over the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a challenge to California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) requiring more benefits and protections for gig workers last month.

Drivers say they prefer flexibility, which is limited by the status of “employee.”

“It’s a cry for attention and a cry for help here,” Gordon Reimer, an express independent trucker, said Wednesday during an interview with NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”

“We want state legislators to take notice of what’s going on and do the right thing while they still have the opportunity to do so,” he continued.

The state has not yet indicated when enforcement of AB5 in the trucking industry may begin but drivers fear it will start soon, since the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge from the California Trucking Association.

Some industry execs, however, are expecting business as usual … for now, at least.

“They will continue pretty much the way they’ve done business for the past few years until there’s some direction, indication of what the state plans to do,” Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Tuesday.

Spencer and his clients represent only two-thirds of all California truckers — more than 70,000 — who are owner-operator drivers who prefer the flexibility of gig work.

AB5 uses the ABC test to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor. That test defines an independent contractor as a worker who is engaged in “work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” 

Although passed into law in 2019, an injunction initially kept the California trucking industry from coming under requirements of AB5, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and applauded by dozens of unions.

Now, a crackdown on compliance requirements could take thousands off the roads, and that couldn’t come at a worse time, given that Amazon Prime Day is attracting millions of consumers ordering up a storm across America.

“We’re not going to shut the trucks down. We have to find a way to keep the trucks rolling if we want our Amazon Prime shipments to arrive. And believe me, everybody does,” Spencer said.

While designed to force gig-economy companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to accept workers as employees, not all are in favor of the bill, and Uber and Lyft actually won exemptions from AB5 under a successful ballot initiative.

That, however, was not the case for independent truckers.

Industry experts say the time and cost of transition from an owner-operator model may prompt drivers to just transition to other jobs, threatening the supply chain even more, just as union dockworkers and rail workers are currently negotiating new contracts.

Union supporters, however, say AB5 means protections and fair compensation and that it’s time for transition and enforcement.

“The trucking association has had two and a half years to do something that they couldn’t do. And it’s time for transition, it’s time to actually consider the workers,” said Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Despite the action of hundreds today, the majority of the ports’ 18,000 truckers are rolling. Protesters suspect their missed shifts Wednesday created backlogs that will require several days of catch up.


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