Port of Oakland gets back to business as truckers protest contractor law

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A protest over state contractor laws that shut down operations at California’s third-largest port for five days has ended and cargo has resumed through the Port of Oakland.

Thousands protested at the port last week demanding that the state exempt independent drivers from Assembly Bill 5 — a state law that would change how self-employed workers can be designated as employees. But after a strike on truck barricades that made it impossible to move containers through the port, the port is back in business.

Port executive director Danny Wan said in a statement that the port is fully operational again. He said last week’s protests hampered the timely flow of international trade, including medical supplies, agricultural products, auto and technology parts, livestock and manufacturing parts.

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

The protesters, many of whom are immigrants who sought asylum from authoritarian governments, said AB 5 would limit their ability to make a living by requiring them to work for one employer instead of driving for multiple companies as they do now. They said they also fear there won’t be enough positions for all drivers once the law goes into effect.

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

In June, the US Supreme Court declined to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision, clearing the way for AB 5 to take effect.

Outside the Oakland International Terminal at the Port of Oakland, where cargo shifts have been halted as about 500 drivers gathered in California to protest a state law that dictates how independent contractors can conduct business. (Natalie Hanson / Court News)

The truckers are awaiting a response from Newsom’s office, which has not been forthcoming as of Monday. They said Friday they have no plans yet to protest at the Capitol.

Kimberly Sulsar-Campos, vice president of Iraheta Bros. Oakland-based Trucking said it has some workers protesting at terminals behind guarded barricades this week. She said they have not sought legal advice to fight the “free speech zones” set up at the port after about 200 truckers met with a lawyer last week to discuss the port’s demands that they stay in the zones to demonstrate. .

Sulsar-Campos said truckers are essential workers who help move the troubled supply chain, 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 a declining membership and they’re struggling to be able to unionize,” she said, adding of the 9,000 truckers in Oakland, 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’re creating a problem where there really wasn’t any problem. They (truckers) want to remain small business owners and they’re being told you can’t own a business anymore.”

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

“I firmly believe that maybe they were thinking they were making too much money and wanted to cut it,” she said. “If these were white drivers and these white drivers protested, they would be heard.”

Joe Rajkovacz, government affairs spokesman for the Western States Trucking Association, said the owner-operators think they got their point across for closing the port for a week. But he said the association doesn’t expect any moves by state leaders to reconsider AB 5’s changes to independent truckers.

“They’re disappointed that it seems the port leadership and the governor don’t really understand what’s at stake for these truckers, which is that life is going to get a lot harder for them without any rational thought in Sacramento,” he said. through email. “Many of these owner-operators have mortgages on their equipment, and it appears that the state, in its zeal to implement a union-backed attack on their livelihoods, could care less if they are forced into bankruptcy.”

Sulsar-Campos and other carrier representatives are exploring all legal advice options for independent directors. Rajkovacz told FreightWaves that “If you go to 10 different lawyers, you will get 10 different solutions.”

The Oakland chapter of the Teamsters Union did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The port reports that the economic impact of the port’s marine operations in California is estimated at $56.6 billion, including $281 million in state and local taxes. Direct employment from operations is 11,000, with 10,000 induced jobs and nearly 6,000 indirect jobs. About 10,000 containers move through the port on any given weekday.

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