The Port of Oakland is back in business this week, after five days of protests against California’s AB5 law hampered and even forced the closure of port operations.
On Monday, July 25, truckers largely returned to work after authorities warned that continuing to block the gates could lead to arrest. Instead protesters were moved to “free speech zones” away from the terminal gates.
The independent truckers were trying to get the attention of lawmakers and the governor about the impact of Assembly Bill 5, which passed in 2019 but was not enforced against the trucking industry while a California Trucking Association appeal worked its way through the courts.
The law makes it nearly impossible for motor carriers to use the traditional independent contractor owner-operator driver model in California.
The Supreme Court at the end of June declined to hear the case, meaning the injunction that had been in place preventing state enforcement would be lifted. According to the California Trucking Association, the law would affect an estimated 70,000 truckers who own and drive their own trucks.
AB5 protests also were held at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach the previous week, but without as much disruption at the ports.
The protests ended without any concessions from key lawmakers or Gov. Newsom, according to published reports. The Port of Oakland reportedly promised to act as a liaison between the independent trucking community and Sacramento and plans to establish “working group” of truckers and port officials to review concerns regarding implementation of AB 5.
Port of Oakland: 'The Truckers Have Been Heard'
In a news release, the Port of Oakland said it appreciates the independent truck drivers' use of the designated Free Speech Zones and thanked local law enforcement.
“The truckers have been heard, and we now urge them to voice their grievances with lawmakers, not the Port of Oakland,” said Port Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. Port officials said City of Oakland, regional and state law enforcement are continuing to monitor and implement measures to keep traffic flowing.
Last week’s protests prevented the timely flow of international commerce, according to port officials, including medical supplies, agricultural products, auto and technology parts, livestock, and manufacturing parts.
Freight handlers told the Wall Street Journal that it could take weeks to work through the backlog of intermodal containers that stacked up during the blockade.
AB5 Uncertainties for Trucking
"It is clear from the shutdown at the port of Oakland this past week that there are still massive uncertainties surrounding AB5 compliance pathways for independent owner-operators," said aid Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, in a July 22 statement. "It is imperative a workable resolution comes to the surface to keep the American dream alive for these independent businesses."
The Harbor Trucking Association is a not-for-profit trade association representing intermodal drayage carriers serving America’s west coast ports.
In neighboring Nevada, Paul Enos, CEO of the state trucking association, told Las Vegas’ Fox 5 that AB5 will lead to truck drivers quitting in an industry that’s 80,000 drivers short already. He said the law also will affect independent operators from other states, like Nevada, who drive into California.
The trucking industry is expected to again challenge the law in a California district court, but in the meantime, it’s unclear how AB5 will be enforced.
From the HDT Talks Trucking podcast 2020 archives: Does California's AB-5 law mean the end of the owner-operator?