A grassroots protest over AB 5, the California law aimed at limiting the use of independent contractors, is being planned by truckers for November 4-6.
While the planned protests originated with truckers hauling construction materials and agricultural products, some flyers promoting the protests also have been posted around the ports of Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach so that drayage drivers may also become involved and ports may be affected.
It was unclear whether the protest would gain traction with drayage drivers at those ports.
“We don’t anticipate any disruption to normal cargo flow at this point,” said Lee Peterson, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach.
Debbie Ferrari of MAG Trucking in Hayward, California said there is no group in charge of the planned shutdown, but a number of truckers have “decided they would take time off” on those days.
Ferrari, who has been in the trucking business for 38 years, said that many truckers in the agriculture and construction businesses are frustrated that an exemption was not made for them in AB 5.
These include not only drivers moving material such as aggregate, block, hot asphalt, soil and other construction material – “integral work to keep California moving,” she stated. She also noted that some of these drivers are involved in emergency clean-up and repairs or moving the harvest from California farms and orchards.
“The shutdown is a grassroots effort of many firms making a personal choice. Some will be demonstrating at designated areas that will be disclosed each day on the day prior,” said Ferrari.
“In our community, owner-operators are prevalent because work is seasonal and the cost of living is higher. A lot of people prefer to be owner-operators,” she said.
“There are a lot of truckers that are misclassified, but there are quite a lot that are not,” she added.
When AB 5 was being discussed, Ferrari said that she spent dozens of days in Sacramento speaking to legislators and lobbyists about the concerns of truckers serving the construction industry.
“The whole thing has been unreal – the treatment, taking away the freedom, taking away the living of people who have invested in clean trucks,” she said.
Ferrari expects additional protests and visits to legislators to have the law modified. “We have a great, clear case and they are treating us very badly and controlling us. They are shutting us down for the wrong reasons – mischaracterizing the people who hire the owner-operators and the owner-operators.”
Weston LaBar with the Harbor Trucking Association, which represents port drayage companies, said his organization is following the planned protest, but said “it is being organized by the construction brokerage community, it’s not being organized by anybody that has to deal with drayage.”
LaBar added, “I don’t know what level of participation you’re going to see in ports. That being said, obviously there ares many owner-operators in the drayage industry and they’re very upset about AB 5.”
He also said, “We want the drivers to absolutely reach out and let people know their opinions and the fact that they don’t appreciate AB 5. We definitely want elected officials and legislators to be educated on the viewpoints of these drivers and the fact that they have no interest in being employees.”
But he also said the Harbor Trucking Association is not promoting the protest because of concerns that it could impact cargo.
“We always have concerns with anything that disrupts the flow of cargo in and out of the ports on the West Coast. We deal with a good percentage of the nation’s discretionary cargo… every time there is a major disruption it affects discretionary cargo and market share on the West Coast.”
LaBar also said, “The sad part is, this is the type of engagement we were hoping we would get from drivers before AB 5 was voted on so that legislators could actually understand the points of view of truck drivers. But there was a large level of apathy in the sense that they didn’t think something like this would ever happen and that their livelihoods might be threatened. And so now they’re on the defensive after the fact.”
“This law is stupid, this law is disruptive to our industry. The word is starting to get out to the owner-operators about AB 5,” says Bill Aboudi, the owner of a small drayage company in Oakland who is also president of Oakland Maritime Support Services, which provides parking and other services for truckers.
“AB 5 was billed as a gig economy law, so nobody paid attention on the owner-operator side to it even as their associations were fighting it,” he said.
“Now the trucking companies have to basically make a decision what they’re going to do, and they’re starting to communicate with their owner-operators. That’s why you see these flyers going around.”
He said some trucking companies are telling owner-operators that they will have to become employees and drive company trucks if they want to be dispatched.
Other companies are telling drivers they need to get their own operating authority, and others are planning to do nothing to change how their companies work believing “somebody’s going to duke it out in court and hopefully it will get cleared up,” said Aboudi.
“Some will go to the two check system, which will cost a lot of money. But it’s got risks too, because now the owner-operator has a truck, they’re going to make payments on the truck lease and then you’re going to pay him partially as an employee,” he said. “How do you figure that out? In the drayage business, you get paid by the move. How do you convert that to hourly? It’s a lot of paperwork.”
“I’m talking to drivers on the street and they’re pissed off. I had one owner-operator, he was so depressed, I almost felt I had to call a suicide hotline. He had just upgraded his truck, he has a truck payment and was saying ‘What do I do? I’m going to be out of business, I can’t pay for this truck.’ ”