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Oakland Port in California Virtually Paralyzed Due to Truckers’ Protests

Carriers against state law AB5 that would deprive them of wages and benefits.


Truckers are holding up operations at one of the busiest container ports on the US West Coast, Oakland, the measure will remain until the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, listen to your concerns about a new state law that will hinder the activity of independent carriers. The situation increases the potential for further disruptions in the country’s already struggling supply chains.

Late on Wednesday, July 20, Oakland Port Executive Director Danny Wan acknowledged protesters’ frustration with California’s «shiftworkers» law and warned that a prolonged shutdown «would damage all businesses operating in ports» and would make customers switch cargo to rival ports.

«It may last for a few weeks or a few more months,» said Gary Schergill, CEO of an Oakland-based transportation company, J & S Drayage LLC, who identified himself as representing the hundreds of truckers protesting at the port.

The protests, which were initially to last a few days, have multiplied since they began on Monday, July 18, practically paralyzing cargo movements in the port. Protesters have prevented most trucks from leaving and picking up containers at cargo mobilization facilities.

As the number of protesters increased on Tuesday and Wednesday, longshoremen refused to cross the lines on foot or by car, citing health and safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, which handles about 70% of cargo entering and leaving the port, said he hopes to resume some operations soon. DeNike added that their container yards are so crowded and that the company only has enough space to move about 2,000 of the 10,000 containers it usually loads and unloads from ships within 24 hours. «At some point, we may not be able to do anything», he said.

Even port officials said 15 container ships were waiting for a docking site by the docks on Wednesday.

Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agricultural Transport Coalition, a Washington-based association representing farmers’ interests in shipping, said the protests are a blow to almond exporters, nuts, rice and dairy products, which were just beginning to progress after two years of struggle to take products abroad.

On the new law

The new law, formally called AB5, establishes stricter rules for classifying workers as independent contractors. The legal challenges of the transportation industry delayed the enactment of the law for more than two years, but the United States Supreme Court refused to review the case on June 30, clearing the way for it to move forward.

Its advocates, including the Teamsters and the ILWU, claim that the AB5 aims to end labor abuses and push companies to hire drivers as employees, which would allow them to join unions and bargain collectively with employers.

The International Brotherhood of Truckers, which aims to organize drivers in California, says transportation companies have mistakenly classified drivers as independent contractors to deprive them of fair wages and benefits.

Many transport companies employ their own drivers. But in California they also rely on about 70,000 independent owner-operators who transport cargo between ports and distribution centers across the state. The law makes it more difficult for transport companies to classify drivers who work regularly for them as independent contractors.

Many drivers say the new law will force them to look for work as employee-drivers or they will have to pay more for insurance and permits to remain independent according to the guidelines of the law.



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