Trucker AB 5 Protest Hampers Operations at Port of Oakland

Protesters block a truck from entering the Port of Oakland July 18.
Protesters block a truck from entering the Port of Oakland July 18. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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About 450 dockworkers did not report to work at California’s third-busiest port, Port of Oakland, July 21 as truckers protesting the AB 5 gig-work law blocked access to the operation for a fourth day.

The largest marine terminal at the port, SSA Marine Inc., which is responsible for much of arriving cargo, was closed for a third time this week on July 21, according to port spokesman Robert Bernardo. The port’s three other terminals have vessel-labor operations under way, he said.

Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan on July 21 sent an open letter to truckers, saying he understands their issues and frustration after meeting with them, but outlining the impact the protests have been having on jobs and operations at the port. He also asks truckers to honor a "free speech zone" that was being created where they could continue their protests without blocking trucks from entering and exiting the port. "We respectfully ask that each independent owner/operator cease any further protest activity that disrupts port operations and the flow of commerce at the seaport," Wan said in the letter.

More than 1,600 registered dockworkers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union worked at the Port of Oakland as of last year, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which acts as a broker for employers.

“Every day, ILWU workers are getting up at 5 a.m. to drive to the dispatch hall and fill jobs at the port,” ILWU Local 10 President Farless Dailey III said in an emailed statement. “But when they get to the terminals, the trucker protests are creating conditions which make it unsafe for workers to pass through the gates and do our jobs.”

Protests began across California last week after the Supreme Court on June 30 refused to review a case brought b y the California Trucking Association challenging the application of Assembly Bill 5 to truckers. The law, passed in 2019, requires workers to satisfy a three-part test to be considered independent contractors, or else be seen as employees entitled to job benefits. About 70,000 truck owner-operators in the state must now comply with the law.

The trucking industry relies on contractors — who until now have had flexibility to operate on their own terms — and has fought to be exempt from state regulations for years, saying it could cut into their earnings. A statement from California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said no one should be surprised by the law’s requirements, and added the industry should focus on supporting the transition just as the state is doing.

“We are in favor of AB 5, not against it,” Dailey said. “But we’re not going to put our members in harm’s way to pass through the line of truckers.”

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