Trucker AB 5 Blockade Ends at Port of Oakland

A Matson cargo ship at the Port of Oakland in November of 2021
A Matson cargo ship at the Port of Oakland in November of 2021. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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Fruit, nuts and wine are again flowing through the Port of Oakland after truckers quietly ended a multiday blockade over the weekend amid a crackdown on AB 5 protesters by port authorities.

The protest put a chokehold on the port, delaying California Central Valley agricultural exports at one of the West Coast’s largest shipping hubs and sending jitters through global supply chains. But on July 25 the truckers, who are not backed by a union, largely returned to work as they now face the possibility of arrest for blockading the port and hope to recoup days of lost income.

The self-employed truckers have no conflict with the port. But they successfully held the cargo flow captive for days as they called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to amend AB 5, a controversial labor law that would require about 70,000 truckers and other independent contractors to register as employees.

Many truckers and freight companies say the law would upend an industry that relies on the labor of independent contractors who own their own vehicles, but major unions, which back AB 5, say trucking companies use the current system to deny truck drivers paid health care, vacation time and proper wages.

While the blockade ended without any concessions from key lawmakers and Newsom doubled down on his commitment to enforcing AB 5, the Port of Oakland promised to act as a liaison between the independent trucking community and Sacramento. The port will establish a “working group” of truckers and port officials to review “concerns regarding implementation of AB 5,” according to a letter from port leadership released last week.

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Navdeep Gill, who owns a small freight company, said the blockade gave the independent trucking community a voice among lawmakers, although he could not point to any specific progress on their demands to provide truckers an exemption to the AB 5 law.

“We are responsible citizens and it’s our responsibility to not break the supply chain,” Gill said on his reasoning for restarting work. But he warned that truckers would “all come back” to the port if progress is not made in the coming months.

The protest, which shut down the majority of Oakland cargo flow for five days, was just the latest turn in the saga of AB 5. The 2019 legislation is commonly known as the “gig worker law” and is best known for forcing Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees. The ride-hailing giants spent over $200 million on a successful ballot measure to exempt them from AB 5, but that measure was ruled unconstitutional by a state court and is now working its way through a federal appeals court.

California truckers filed a lawsuit that also put the law on hold. But in June the Supreme Court declined to review a case opposing AB 5, leaving the state free to start enforcing the new system of employee classifications and sparking last week’s protest.

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