Professional long-haul California truckers have been fired up for months on end, protesting unfair mandates and regulations imposed by federal, state, and local government agencies. But those protests have reached a fevered pitch as the Golden State’s controversial Assembly Bill 5 finally goes into effect. AB5 passed in 2019 but has been held up by court challenges from the California Trucking Association, giving the industry a false sense of hope. That all came to a grinding halt when the US Supreme Court decided not to even hear the complaint.
Designed to regulate businesses that hire gig workers in large numbers, AB5 requires companies to reclassify freelance and contract workers as employees. The law has angered the trucking industry because it was singled out when other transportation sectors won an exemption to the rule. The idea was to target the big independent contractors: gig-economy giants like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash. Oh, and it should also be mentioned that realtors, accountants, and attorneys squeaked by with immunity from the statute. Those not absolved? Freelance writers, translators, artists, and consultants in the state. How does California choose who to target and who gets the free pass?
With 70,000 truck owner-operators in the Golden State doubling down on efforts to make a stink, the pandemic supply chain problems Americans have seen so far might start to seem like a minor inconvenience compared to what may soon arise.
There really is nothing like lawmakers in an over-taxed, over-regulated US state spending the Assembly’s time creating another chokepoint in the supply chain to get the blood boiling. About 70% of this nation’s truckers serve in three of the largest US ports: Los Angeles, Oakland, and Long Beach. And a strike coinciding with back-to-school buying and the harvest, as well as construction and retailers loading up on holiday goods and supplies, probably comes at the worst time for the American consumer. But who can blame the California truckers?
To add insult to injury, railroad workers and dockworkers are in negotiations with their employers for new contracts. Snarling traffic seems to be a common goal of California’s powers-that-be.
Exemptions Galore But Not for California Truckers
Larry Gross, the president and founder of Gross Transportation Consulting, predicts an unpleasant several months if something isn’t done to appease the trucking industry: “So, you can imagine if there’s a stoppage, it’s kinda like a crimp in a hose and the water is going to back up very quickly. It’s not going to take a long time of this type of disruption before it’s going to break at least the Port of Oakland.”
But independent trucker Mohander Singh told one local news outlet that he and his colleagues have no beef with Port of Oakland officials, just the law itself: “We don’t have an issue with the port; our fight is with our government.”
The message from other independents is the same, with Kimberly Sulsar-Campos, vice president of Oakland-based Iraheta Bros. Trucking, adding: “The truckers want an exemption, and they’re not stopping until they get it.”
And what should concern California lawmakers is that a great many union members support the protesting owner-operators. According to an industry news organization, FreightWaves, approximately 22,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) are quietly supporting their colleagues. The publication interviewed several ILWU members on-site at the Port of Oakland. One member, George, who wanted his last name kept anonymous, stated, “We are working without a contract right now, so we support the owner-operators and understand what they are trying to do.”
No Love for Newsom Among Truckers
The industry is demanding that Gov. Gavin Newsom allow California truckers the freedom from this law that the other transportation-oriented businesses have been granted. And until some leeway is bestowed, or at the very least, renegotiated, all bets are off on how Americans will send kids back to school and whether there is a big turkey on the platter for thanksgiving.
In the long run, AB5 may drive even more middle-class folks out of California. Kevin McMaster of Encinitas, CA-based Flock Freight warns that if the industry is forced to restructure:
“This would cause a ripple effect in the industry, pushing many drivers who don’t want to apply for their own authority to lease out of state, likely in Arizona or Nevada, and even force some into retirement due to increased market pressures. There will likely be pressure added on capacity in California that could exacerbate an already tough environment where drivers are at a premium.”
And the American consumer will continue to pay the ultimate price.