For days, a convoy of truck drivers has blocked the roads serving the Port of Oakland, leaving a major freight hub on the West Coast paralyzed by global supply chain disruptions.
The protest aims to send a message to Governor Gavin Newsom: Keep drivers away from a California labor law they say threatens their livelihood.
The truckers, mostly independent owners and operators, are demonstrating against Assembly Bill 5, a law passed in 2019 that requires gig workers in various industries to be classified as workers with benefits, including minimum wage and overtime.
Along with a coalition of trade groups, the truck drivers want Mr Newsom to issue an executive order to delay the application of the 2019 law to their workplaces and bring workers and industry to the table to negotiate a road forward.
A representative for Mr. Newsom said the state “will continue to work with truck drivers and the ports to ensure that goods continue to be shipped to California residents and businesses, which is critical for all of us.”
Last week, smaller protests were staged in the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
In a statement, Danny Wan, executive director of the Port of Oakland, said he understands the expressions of frustration. But he warned of more delays around ports, a vital link in a supply chain already bleeding from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19 lockdowns in China.
“Prolonged cessation of port operations in California for any reason will harm all companies operating in the ports and cause California ports to lose further market share relative to competing ports,” he said.
When Mr. Newsom signed the bill, it was immediately reprimanded by companies like Uber and Lyft, whose leaders claimed the law would change their businesses so drastically it could destroy them.
The state law codified a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling that, among other things, stated that people should be classified as employees if their work was a regular part of a company’s operations.
Both Uber and Lyft, along with DoorDash, quickly lobbied for a ballot measure that would allow gig economy companies to continue treating their drivers as independent contractors.
California voters passed the measure, Proposition 22, in 2020, but last year a California Superior Court judge ruled it unconstitutional. Uber and Lyft quickly appealed and are exempt from meeting Assembly Bill 5 while the court proceedings are underway.
But that was not the case for the truck drivers. In June, the US Supreme Court refused to appeal to California truck drivers, who are considered employees of the truck companies they do business with under the new law.
Nearly 70,000 California truck drivers work as independent owners and operators, transporting goods from ports to distribution warehouses. Transport companies and the protesting drivers claim – as Uber and Lyft did – that if Assembly Bill 5 is applied to them, the drivers will have less flexibility in when and how they work.
Proponents of the law say the companies can just hire the drivers as full-time or part-time employees and continue to offer them flexible schedules.
A majority of port truckers in California are independent operators and do not work for a single company. A smaller number of drivers are unionized and mainly represented by the Teamsters.
Matt Schrap, chief executive of the Harbor Trucking Association, a trade group for transportation companies serving West Coast ports, said the “frustration is that there is no way for people to become independent.”
“That frustration boils over into action,” said Mr Schrap.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former state legislator who was an architect of labor law, rejected the idea that applying the law to the trucking industry would be a disservice to drivers.
“These trucking companies have a business model that misclassifies employees,” said Ms. Gonzalez Fletcher, who is about to take over as the head of the California Labor Federation. “The way they have been operating is illegal.”
The truck drivers’ protests come as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union enters contract negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping terminals in 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle.
Farless Dailey III, chairman of Local 10 of the Longshore Union, said his members were not trying to get through the truck block for their own safety.
“They don’t get paid if they don’t come in,” he said. “But we’re not going to endanger our members to get through the truck driver line.”
Officials at the port said the largest maritime terminal had been closed since Monday due to the protests. Three other smaller terminals are in use, but with limited capacity.
Christopher S. Tang, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management, who studies supply chains, said the closures at the Port of Oakland should not cause major problems for consumers — for now.
“The impact will not be significant in the short term,” he said. “Many retailers have stocks stocked.”
On Thursday, German Ochoa, a truck driver who lives in Oakland, arrived at the port, as he had every day this week.
With semi-truck horns blaring in the background, Mr. Ochoa said on the phone that he was standing shoulder to shoulder with other truck drivers. Some were holding poster boards that read: “Take down AB 5!!!” and “AB 5 must go!” he said.
“This takes away my independence,” said Mr. Ochoa. “It’s my right to be an independent driver.”
Noam Scheiber reporting contributed.