Truckers vow to keep Oakland port shuttered for third day over labor law protest – San Bernardino Sun

A group of truckers vowed to continue their blockade of freight shipments at the Port of Oakland through Thursday amid deepening concerns over major supply chain disruptions at one of the West Coast’s largest ports and a key hub for global commerce.

The protest spilled into its third day on Wednesday after escalating to a near complete shutdown of port activity the day before.

A growing chorus of protesters said they planned to continue halting cargo movement until Gov. Gavin Newsom signals that he is listening to their demand to exempt truck drivers from AB 5, a state law that will require thousands of independent truck drivers to register as employees.

The governor’s office “came back with nothing,” said Navdeep Gill, the owner of a small freight company, who has been negotiating with port officials.

“Give us something in writing on what the governor’s office is working on,” Gill said in an interview. “Are they buying time? Or giving us an exemption? Or what?”

At the heart of the protest is the 2019 California law AB 5, which will require about 70,000 currently independent owner-operators to register as employees of trucking and other companies. Many small business owners and independent truckers say the law could force them to shut down their operations. However, worker’s rights groups say the trucking industry is in desperate need of employee protections.

Port of Oakland officials appear to be acting as a middleman between protesters and the governor’s office.

“We understand the frustration expressed by the protestors at California ports,” said Danny Wan the port’s executive director said. “But, prolonged stoppage of port operations in California for any reason will damage all the businesses operating at the ports and cause California ports to further suffer market share losses to competing ports.”

The 2019 AB 5 law was heavily backed by labor groups who say many gig workers and truckers are often classified as independent contractors even though their work should qualify them for full-time employee benefits. The law has been held up since 2020 amid legal wrangling. In June the Supreme Court declined to review a case opposing AB 5, paving the way for the state to enforce the new system of employee classifications.

Many truck drivers say the independent contractors’ model gives them flexibility and the ability to grow small trucking businesses in an industry that has become an economic engine for Sikh immigrants and their children.

The protests come as the Port of Oakland is already struggling to free up container space at the sprawling facility. Marilyn Sandifur, a port spokesperson, said the blockade is “worsening the already existing backlog of containers on the marine terminals.”

At nearly a century old, the Port of Oakland is one of the top three gateways on the West Coast and it handles virtually all of Northern California’s containerized imports and exports.

While supply chain woes caused massive backlogs at shipping facilities during the last year, the import business has boomed amid strong consumer demand. In 2021, the Port of Oakland moved over 1 million import cargo containers, a new record.

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