Trucker protest shuts down operations at Port of Oakland

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OAKLAND (NewsNation) — Truckers protesting a state labor law have effectively shut down cargo operations at the Port of Oakland, according to a Wednesday announcement.

“The shutdown will further exacerbate the congestion of containers,” port officials said. As a result, they’ve been urging shipping terminals to resume operations to prevent such an outcome.

Launched Monday, the protest involves swarms of big-rig truck blocking cargo ship traffic by occupying the throughway in and out of the Port of Oakland — one of the 10 busiest container ports in the country.

To make matters worse, the protest is taking place during a time retailers are gearing up for their busiest season, as back-to-school and the holiday seasons near.

Local stores in the Bay Area have already been impacted by the protest; no truck deliveries for days have left some produce bins completely empty.

“They’ve decided to pin their hat on litigation and when it didn’t go their way, they’re trying to stir the hornet’s nest,” said one retail worker

Truckers are up in arms over California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which requires more benefits and protections for gig workers. Drivers say they prefer flexibility, which is limited by the status of “employee.”

AB5 uses the “ABC test” to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor, which 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, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling last year and a Supreme Court dismissal last month, the more than 70,000 owner-operator drivers who pass through the state are mandated to be classified as employees of a company rather than independent contractors.

Supporters of AB5 say the law brings protections and fair compensation and that it’s time for transition and enforcement. That, however, was not the case for independent truckers.

“The reality is that employee drivers, even in the ports, earn probably about $10,000 more per year than non-employee drivers. And remember, those drivers that whatever money they’re grossing, they’re paying all the costs,” said Shane Gusman, a spokesman for CA Teamsters.

Industry experts, however, 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.

“That will increase our costs. And you know, not just costs, it takes a lot of hassle. We need to hire people to … help us do all the paperwork,” Wayne Feng, an independent trucker, told Reuters

Additionally, while AB5 is designed to force gig-economy companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to accept workers as employees, even they aren’t all in favor of the bill, as Uber and Lyft actually won exemptions from AB5 under a successful ballot initiative.

In a statement to NewsNation, the Port of Oakland acknowledged that the protests have effectively shut down operations, adding that it “will further exacerbate the congestion of containers dwelling at the Oakland seaport as port officials urge terminal operations to resume.”

There is no sign of that yet, however.

This is also not their first protest: Southern California truckers took their outrage to local freeways last week.

For now, there are no signs that AB5 is being enforced and the state is offering resources to help truckers comply.

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