Independent Truckers Continue to Protest in California, but Guess Who the Unions Side With?

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

As if we needed more issues to compound the supply chain crisis, trucker protests have entered their fourth day at Oakland’s ports. The problem with these protests is that the truckers who are demonstrating are justified.


These protests are against California’s recent law that treats freelancers, independent contractors, and other “gig workers” as employees, and since the state refuses to listen to the protesters, they’re digging in further.

“Truckers initially planned a three-day protest in Oakland but are digging in after receiving no response Wednesday from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed AB5 — a controversial statute that seeks to limit the use of independent contractors and largely classify them as employee drivers — into law nearly three years ago,” writes Clarissa Hawes at FreightWaves.

What’s the big deal with AB5? My PJ Media colleague Gwendolyn Sims explained it earlier this month.

“AB5 limits the freedom of California’s workers to be independent contractors,” she wrote. “Instead, it forces them to be considered salaried employees, which means the employers are also forced to place them under the existing laws for health insurance, retirement, and a myriad of other regulations concerning full-time employees.”

Even though California passed the law in 2019, the California Trucking Association fought it, appealing litigation all the way to the Supreme Court. The court declined to hear the truckers’ case last month, putting the law into effect and making all the independent truckers in California subject to it.


Thus, as Gwendolyn put it, “While AB5 does exempt some specific occupations from its onerous regulations, the state’s over 70,000 independent truckers were not explicitly among those exemptions in the original bill.”

Related: The State of Logistics in a Supply Chain Crisis and Struggling Economy

The protests stem from the fact that California won’t grant truckers an exemption from AB5, even though the state has given exemptions to Uber and Lyft drivers, realtors, accountants, and (of course) attorneys.

On Wednesday, the Port of Oakland issued a statement that the protests “have effectively shut down operations at shipping terminals at the Port of Oakland.”

“Since the beginning of the trucker protests on Monday, port staff have been providing federal and state officials regular informational updates about the operational status of our port,” Roberto Bernardo, director of communications for the Port of Oakland, told FreightWaves.

Danny Wan, executive director of the Port of Oakland, said that while he understands the concerns of the protesters, “prolonged stoppage of port operations in California for any reason will damage all the businesses operating at the ports and cause California ports to further suffer market-share losses to competing ports.”

Protesters have carried signs with messages like “The cargo won’t flow until AB5 goes” and “We demand an exemption now. We deserve respect for keeping the world economy and the USA rolling.”


Wan said that California is developing resources to help independent owner-operators comply with AB5, and he hopes that the state will resolve the matter soon.

“Truckers are vital to keeping goods moving,” Wan said. “We trust that implementation of AB5 can be accomplished in a way that accommodates the needs of this vital part of the supply chain.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that union leaders support AB5, even if union members on the front lines don’t. Port employees have been working without a contract since the beginning of the month, and 100 members of their union refused to cross the truckers’ picket lines to work on Wednesday.

“We are working without a contract right now, so we support the owner-operators and understand what they are trying to do,” one union member told FreightWaves.


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