Port of Oakland resumes operations as truckers protest Contractors Act

Independent truckers say California’s independent contractor law will cost them income — and may even cost them their livelihood entirely.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A protest against state contractor laws, which kept California’s third-largest port from operating for five days, has ended and the flow of goods has resumed through the port of Oakland.

Thousands of people demonstrated at the port last week demanding that the state illustrate the self-employed drivers of Assembly Bill 5 – a state law that would change how self-employed people could be referred to as employees. But after a crackdown on truck barricades that made it impossible to transport containers through the port, the port has resumed operations.

Port executive director Danny Wan said in a statement that the port was once again fully operational. He said protests over the past week have impeded the rapid flow of international trade, including medical supplies, agricultural products, auto and technology parts, livestock and manufacturing parts.

“The truckers have been heard and we now urge them to take their grievances to lawmakers, not the Port of Oakland,” Wan said, adding that Oakland and regional and state law enforcement are deployed to ensure that operations and traffic remain on track.

Protesters, many of them immigrants who have sought asylum from authoritarian governments, said AB 5 would restrict their ability to earn a living by requiring them to work for one employer instead of driving for multiple companies as they do currently. They said they were also concerned that there would not be enough positions for all drivers once the law takes effect.

A 2019 court injunction blocked the implementation of AB 5 after Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law. The Ninth Circuit later overturned the injunction.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision, clearing the way for AB 5 to go into effect.

Outside the Oakland International Terminal at the Port of Oakland, where cargo transfers are halted as around 500 drivers gathered in California to protest a state law defining how independent contractors can do business. (Natalie Hanson/Courthouse News)

Truckers are awaiting a response from Newsom’s office, which did not arrive Monday. They said Friday they had no plans to demonstrate at the Capitol yet.

Kimberly Sulsar-Campos, Vice President of Iraheta Bros. Oakland-based Trucking said workers were protesting at terminals behind protected barricades this week. She said they did not seek legal advice to fight the ‘free speech zones’ established by the port after around 200 truckers met with a lawyer last week to discuss the port’s demands for stay in these areas to demonstrate.

Sulsar-Campos said truckers are essential workers helping keep the struggling supply chain going, especially through the issues that have plagued the country during the pandemic. They are still hoping for an exemption from the legislature.

“This is being pushed by the Teamsters Union. They have declining membership and they’re chomping at the bit to be able to unionize,” she said, adding that of Oakland’s 9,000 truckers, about 7,500 are independent contractors.

“We’re not anti-union, we’re pro-choice,” Sulsar-Campos said. “I think it’s a good thing that the state wants to protect people, but in this case they are creating a problem where there really was no problem. They (the truckers) want to stay small business owners and they are told you can’t own a business anymore.

Sulsar-Campos also called the bill “very racist” because the workers affected are disproportionately people of color and immigrants from other countries.

“I categorically believe that maybe they felt like they were making too much money and wanted to put them down,” she said. “If it was white drivers, and those white drivers were protesting, they would be heard.”

Sulsar-Campos and other operator representatives are considering all legal advice options for self-employed drivers.

“If you go to 10 different lawyers, you’ll get 10 different solutions,” Joe Rajkovacz, director of government affairs for the Western States Trucking Association, told FreightWaves.

The Teamsters Union chapter in Oakland did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

The port reports that the economic impact of the port’s maritime operations in California is estimated at $56.6 billion, including $281 million in state and local taxes. Direct jobs resulting from operations amount to 11,000, to which are added 10,000 induced jobs and nearly 6,000 indirect jobs. Around 10,000 containers pass through the port each weekday.

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