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Hundreds of truckers block Oakland terminal access to protest AB5

Some port truckers want to protest again on Tuesday

OAKLAND, Calif. — After a slow showing early Monday morning, an estimated 400 owner-operators managed to shut down truck traffic at all three terminals at the Port of Oakland to protest California’s controversial independent contractor law, AB5.

By Monday afternoon, the SSA, TraPac and Everport terminals announced there would be no night shift hours as the protesting owner-operators were only allowing around two company trucks per hour into the terminal gates throughout the day. On average, 250 trucks an hour would flow through the terminals on a typical work day.

Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, who was in Oakland on Monday, lauded the demonstration.

“It was very impressive to see the power of social media on display at the Port of Oakland today,” Schrap told FreightWaves. “We watched the protests grow organically in a matter of a few days and brought together hundreds of individuals who feel they are being disproportionately impacted by this law.”

He said clarification is needed about how AB5 will be enforced and how to ensure owner-operators comply with the law. AB5 seeks to limit the use of independent contractors and largely classify them as employee drivers.

The HTA is a coalition of intermodal carriers serving the three major California ports, including Los Angeles/Long Beach and Oakland.

Oakland protestors, who own their own rigs and currently choose which loads they want to take, don’t want to work as company drivers as many would be forced to do under AB5. 

Ongoing legal challenges prevented AB5 from going into effect in January 2020. The law stems from the California Supreme Court’s decision against Dynamex Operations West Inc., a package and document delivery company. The court found that Dynamex had misclassified its delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees and that all California-based companies that use independent contractors must follow the “ABC test,” a three-pronged test to determine whether a worker is an employee.

The B prong defines an independent contractor as a worker who is engaged in “work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” That is problematic for motor carriers utilizing independent owner-operators to move freight.

Some protesters in Oakland held signs that said, “The 70,000+ owner-operators choose freedom over fear” and “Don’t let AB5 take our freedom.” (Photo: Clarissa Hawes/FreightWaves)

Oakland protest gains momentum

By 8 a.m. PST Monday, the port drivers had successfully blocked the east and west gates at the SSA terminal in Oakland. While the terminal opened a back gate briefly to let company trucks in, owner-operators successfully blocked that access, too, forcing some company drivers to turn around and leave port property and try again Tuesday. Protestors gathered on foot to block company trucks from entering the terminals. 

Kimberly Sulsar-Campos, vice president of Oakland-based Iraheta Bros. Trucking, said some owner-operators want to protest again on Tuesday. While the initial protest was planned for three days, nearly 200 port drivers decided on one day at a meeting near the port on Friday.

Sulsar-Campos said there’s been no official announcement that the AB5 protest will continue for two more days.

Iraheta Bros. was founded by a group of owner-operators who wanted to start their own trucking company, she said. The drayage company now has 20 owner-operators who oppose AB5 and want a choice about how to run their businesses.

“We have owner-operators who want to be able to choose when they want to work and don’t want to be company drivers and be told by a company when they will work and decide how much they will be paid,” Sulsar-Campos told FreightWaves. 

Some California truckers who move containers in and out of the marine terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach participated in a work stoppage Wednesday to protest AB5 and urged the Oakland drivers to stage their own protest as well.

AB5 is a ‘dream killer’

Rafael Quintero, owner of one of the oldest drayage companies that serve the Port of Oakland, attended the protest to support his 10 owner-operators. He called AB5 “an American dream killer” for thousands of minority drivers who immigrated to the U.S. with the dream of owning their own businesses.

He started out as an owner-operator in 1979 and built his company to nearly 80 drivers before scaling back to 10 over the past few years.

“Many port drivers come from poverty like I did and came to America to get away from being controlled by the government,” Quintero told FreightWaves. “These owner-operators are able to provide for their families and put aside money with the dream of eventually owning their own companies just like I did.”

“Many port drivers come from poverty like I did and came to America to get away from being controlled by the government. These owner-operators are able to provide for their families and put aside money with the dream of eventually owning their own companies just like I did.”

Rafael Quintero

Some protesters in Oakland held signs that said, “The 70,000+ owner-operators choose freedom over fear” and “Don’t let AB5 take our freedom.”

Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs for the Western States Trucking Association, said his members are concerned about AB5’s impact. He said WSTA members seeking legal advice have received mixed messages from attorneys about how to comply with AB5 if the law stays on the books. 

“One of our members was told to split the company into a brokerage and trucking company and have their three owner-operators form S corporations,” Rajkovacz told FreightWaves. 

When the company owners followed the attorney’s advice about AB5,  he said the WSTA member was hit with a $180,000 tax bill because one of their owner-operators had received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance because of COVID-19 when work in the construction industry largely shut down. 

“This triggered an Employment Development Department [EDD] audit,” Rajkovacz said. “We need clarification before this happens to other trucking company owners trying to comply with AB5.”

Trucks entering the Port of Oakland Monday were largely driven by company drivers from California’s Central Valley. Most owner-operators were in their rigs or personal vehicles, while others stayed home and didn’t pull containers from the port to show solidarity with those protesting AB5.

Larry Dhaliwal, owner of Sacramento-based LDT Transport, attended the protest to support his 30 owner-operators.

A group of owner-operators started lining up outside the SSA terminal at the Port of Oakland early Monday to protest. (Photo: Clarissa Hawes: FreightWaves)

“They want to be free to work when they want to and not be forced to become company drivers,” Dhaliwal told FreightWaves.

Some protesters were disappointed that more owner-operators didn’t arrive before the longshoremen showed up to work at the Port of Oakland Monday.

Prior to the demonstration, some dockworkers had said they wouldn’t cross the protest line if the port truckers successfully blocked access to all of the terminal gates.

“It’s really hard to organize a protest for owner-operators,” an owner-operator, who didn’t want to be named, told FreightWaves. “Everybody has their own ideas about how we should deal with AB5.”

Robert Bernardo, director of communications for the Port of Oakland, said port officials are closely monitoring the situation. However, he disputed estimates by those on the front line Monday that the number of protesters was between 300 and 400 owner-operators. Bernardo put the number at 100 to 130 truckers.

“There is some traffic congestion at both TraPac and SSA terminals, so we are working closely with our maritime stakeholders to ensure a safe and continued flow of commerce,” Bernardo said via email to FreightWaves.

FreightWaves attended the Port of Oakland Truck Work Group meeting Monday where the truckers’ protest over AB5 was discussed.

At the meeting, Bill Aboudi, who owns Oakland-based AB Trucking, urged a port official in attendance not to downplay the disruption and economic effects the protest was having on the terminals’ business operations at the port.

The in-gates at the terminals were largely empty Monday, whereas on a normal day he said drayage trucks would be lined up for miles waiting for their turn.

Downplaying the impact will upset the owner-operators more, Aboudi said, citing examples of how the Port of Oakland has responded to protests in the past.

“Just be open and honest with us about the impact,” he said.

Read related article here:

Hundreds of truckers protest AB5 at Southern California’s busiest ports

13 Comments

  1. I’m confident this will backfire spectacularly……the supply chain is already a catastrophic mess and this is absolutely the last thing we need. Protest? Absolutely….but I can’t possibly fathom a worse place to do it right now.

    This will immediately and dramatically impact my business in a negative way…..and when it does, it will force my hand to lay more people off because I can’t get the products we need to keep the labor moving. Guess what? It will also impact all of my upstream suppliers and everyone that works for them. Guess what else? It will also impact our downstream customer base and their employees.

    You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice. This is astonishingly short-sighted, horrible optics right now….I will have absolutely zero sympathy for the backlash these drivers are bound to receive. Stunningly, embarrassingly stupid decision-making.

  2. AB5 can be beaten pretty easily with the business-to-business exemption, section 2776 of the law. The main obstacle is that employers are terrified of it, so they insist that you agree to incorrect and ineffective measures.

    Register in your home county as a sole proprietor. It’s cheap; it requires only a name for your business and a business checking account for all financial transactions. Register the same business in Alameda County and every county where you do business. Always use the business name, not your personal name, on contracts, invoices, reports to customers, taxes, and so forth.

    You’ll have to operate your business according to a dozen characteristics of independent contractors. They’re spelled out in section 2776. You’re already meeting them most of the time anyway. You might have to update the contract you sign with the freight companies; see 2776.

    Once you earn the exemption, you’ll have to satisfy another set of characteristics of independent contractors, called the Borello test. Yes, this is a pain where you sit, but don’t sweat it. You’ve already been meeting this test for decades.

    For the full text of the law, look in section 2776 of the California Labor Code (Labor Code LAB, Division 3, Chapter 2, Article 1.5, Section 2776.

  3. You are right. This type of protest only hurts the other drivers who need to go to work. I understand that their intention was to show the impact that the port would have if they were all to stop working today. We do want to value their contribution, but they are misunderstanding the law. This law is to PROTECT the independent operators because they are being taken advantage of by their companies. Many of them do not know that they are paying the bills for the company that they work for without getting any of the benefits. If they were company drivers, they would be granted medical insurance, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance at the least. These are just a few ways that they miss out. This law will reveal that companies are underreporting revenue and skipping out on taxes that they would otherwise have to pay. It may hurt for a while, but I think that it is for the best. I know too many companies that provide over-priced junk trucks for lease so that drivers could be classified as owner-operators. The drivers barely get paid anything at the end of the week after the insurance, truck note, trailer rental, fuel expenses, and maintenance fees are taken from their checks. Many of these companies are even cooking the rate confirmations and taking money off the top of the rates. I hope that this law takes root and is adopted by all states so that everyone will be forced to walk-the-line, and all truck drivers will be paid fairly for the work that we do to run this country.

  4. By protesting the port and other drivers. Has nothing to do with the issue you’re only hurting other drivers. Why not protest at the state capitol? and I would say that most missed the CAPITOL?! I don’t really understand what’s going on they had a chance to remove governor gavinusa in the recall and they failed. Why is this important? because it’s his attorney general of California that is enforcing this ab-5! Once the Supreme Court said they would not hear the ab5 case and the lower court lifted the injunction on ab5.Governor gavinosa attorney general said he was not lifting his foot off the gas pedal on AB 5 he was going to go full throttle. So this is the man the Attorney General the governor of California you need to protest. Take fight to Sacramento and you need to protest against around the capital not other drivers not the port. they have nothing to do with AB 5! You need to get the idiots out of Sacramento and stop re-electing the same idiots! The only way to resolve this thing! AB 5 will not be changed as long as that attorney general is an office and this Governor is an office stop trying to hurt other drivers!

    1. You are right. This type of protest only hurts the other drivers who need to go to work. I understand that their intention was to show the impact that the port would have if they were all to stop working today. We do want to value their contribution, but they are misunderstanding the law. This law is to PROTECT the independent operators because they are being taken advantage of by their companies. Many of them do not know that they are paying the bills for the company that they work for without getting any of the benefits. If they were company drivers, they would be granted medical insurance, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance at the least. These are just a few ways that they miss out. This law will reveal that companies are underreporting revenue and skipping out on taxes that they would otherwise have to pay. It may hurt for a while, but I think that it is for the best. I know too many companies that provide over-priced junk trucks for lease so that drivers could be classified as owner-operators. The drivers barely get paid anything at the end of the week after the insurance, truck note, trailer rental, fuel expenses, and maintenance fees are taken from their checks. Many of these companies are even cooking the rate confirmations and taking money off the top of the rates. I hope that this law takes root and is adopted by all states so that everyone will be forced to walk-the-line, and all truck drivers will be paid fairly for the work that we do to run this country.

  5. When you operate on their dot# they own you…your driving affects their safety record..insurance. You have to keep all your stuff on record with them…med card so on..they tell you when to drug test….
    man up..
    get your own dot…and insurance..takes two days….take their name off your truck and put only your name on your truck….wiegh station respects you more aswel…
    be a Trucker…dont just look like one!

  6. You really need to talk to a driver who made all the changes 3 years ago along with 60 others and we are all AB5 compliant while 60 others are company drivers using the same D.O.T. number. It is not hard to do,takes a few days,and cost only a couple thousand out of pocket. The news is reporting it all wrong. I know Larry and used to drive his truck..good guy..but he is wrong. I now haul cotainers for Devine Intermodal and was at the port today,and brought a load to and from Oakland. Contact me if you want the rest of my story. Thanks, Patrick North O.T.M. Trucking DOT#3351866
    916.220.3337 going to oakland in morning if you want a ride!

  7. These drivers are not independent contractors…
    A mechanic brings his tools to work they’re an employee, a carpenter brings a hammer they’re not builders, these drivers supply a truck which is just a tool like any other. In order to be an independent contractor you need to run the whole show not just drive a truck. I hate to say this but California is correct and the federal IRS has simular rules but they don’t enforce them.
    If these drivers were classified correctly then they would have workman’s compensation, unemployment, health insurance and possibly 401 k plans that the office people get. I’ve been in trucking for 44 years as a independent and I’ve hired drivers and they were employees not contractors.

    1. When you operate on their dot# they own you…your driving affects their safety record..insurance. You have to keep all your stuff on record with them…med card so on..they tell you when to drug test….
      man up..
      get your own dot…and insurance..takes two days….take their name off your truck and put only your name on your truck….wiegh station respects you more aswel…
      be a Trucker…dont just look like one!

    2. I work for a trucking company that has a couple of employed truck drivers, and when they get more business they turn to the owner operators. The owner operators do not have to take any job that’s offered to them. They set their own hours. And not only do they own their own trucks, they have their own insurance, they have their own DIR number, they have their own Motor Carrier Permit, they have their own DOT approved drug testing company that they work with. To claim they are not small business owners downplays the business that they have created. There is not a single one of them that wants to be an employee for our company. If they were, there would be months at a time where they had no work-what do they do then? This law is hurting the very people it claims to protect. There may be companies who are misclassifying employees as independent contractors to save money, but most of them are not. Our employees work the schedule and job they are told to work. Our independent contractors work for whoever they want.

  8. i was a truck driver fur about 17 yrs , glad to see some that actually have the balls to do it !! i quit truck, n due to the eld came into effect ! that was enough fur me. they have killed trucking . now its a miserable job thats also more dangerous cause they’re always racing the clock ! tired ? tough gotta keep on driving raceing the clock ! dam shame. if all drivers stopped driving and protest a long time ago not taking they’re government over reach i can assure you it/i would still be truck, n !! new driver’s will only here story’s about truck, n ! they’ll never experiance it.

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and Trucks.com. If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to chawes@freightwaves.com.