Some California truckers who move containers in and out of the marine terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach say they plan to participate in a work stoppage Wednesday to protest a controversial state law, AB5, that seeks to limit the use of independent contractors and largely classify them as employee drivers.
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the California Trucking Association’s challenge to AB5, returning the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
One owner-operator who plans to participate in the port protest says he doesn’t want to become an employee driver, preferring to remain an independent contractor.
“During the pandemic, we were too busy being essential to realize we were about to be screwed by AB5,” the California trucker, who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves.
Gordon Reimer, manager of Southern California-based FHE Express, says many of the 75 owner-operators his company uses to move freight to and from the ports in Southern California plan to participate in Wednesday’s protest.
He has notified the trucking company’s customers to expect potential freight delays because of the protest.
“This will be an inconvenience to us and our customers, but I understand the frustration among independent owner-operators who feel this is the only way to bring attention to their plight as being a former owner-operator myself,” Reimer told FreightWaves. “How can I blame these drivers who now find out that their dream is being snatched away from them all because they’re based here in the state of California?”
Phillip Sanfield, director of media relations for the Port of Los Angeles, told FreightWaves late Tuesday that port representatives have heard some social media reports about the planned protest, but “have no other info.” He said the port is monitoring the situation.
Representatives of the Port of Long Beach did not immediately respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment.
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.
It’s unclear how many independent contractors or owner-operators plan to participate in the work stoppage on Wednesday.
“Owner-operators are the most difficult segment of the trucking industry to try and organize — it’s like herding cats — because everyone has their own personal gripes in the industry,” Reimer said. “However, everyone seems to be pretty unified about how AB5 could effectively put 70,000-plus independent owner-operators out of business.”
Oakland truckers plan Monday protest
To the north, multiple trucking companies hauling containers in and out of the Port of Oakland have been notified by owner-operators that they are planning a work stoppage on Monday.
Bill Aboudi, president of AB Trucking, says he switched to an employee business model a few years ago, but with the fallout from AB5 looming, many trucking companies that serve the port are choosing to close, sell or move their operations out of California.
“Some of the older owner-operators, who just love to drive and want to remain independent, don’t want to jump through all of these extra government hoops to set up their own corporations and pay themselves a set salary and everything else to comply with AB5, so they are leaving the industry,” Aboudi told FreightWaves.
Some of the younger independents are choosing to do something else, either find a job in another industry or leave California entirely to truck elsewhere, Aboudi said.
“I had one guy tell me he was going back to his old job as a cook and is leaving port trucking,” Aboudi said. “We think inflation is high right now; just wait until the cost of operating a trucking business skyrockets if we don’t get AB5 off the books.”
This is a developing story.
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