AB 5 continues to hurt workers in California

It’s not just Uber and Lyft drivers — and musicians and journalists — who are caught in the middle in the still ongoing fight over the anti-independent contractor legislation that is the crazily poorly conceived AB 5 in California.

It’s also independent truckers who want to continue to work as they long have without the strictures that state lawmakers, along with the governor, have imposed on them.

In recent weeks at the large Port of Oakland, self-employed truckers were forced into holding a multi-day blockade that, as our sister papers in Northern California reported, “put a choke hold on the port, delaying Central Valley agricultural exports at one of West Coast’s largest shipping hubs and sending jitters through global supply chains.”

Then, on Monday, the truckers, who are not backed by a union, largely returned to work as they faced the possibility of arrest for blockading the port and hoped to recoup days of lost income.

That means the huge agricultural bounty of our state in fruit, nuts and wine are again flowing through the port.

The self-employed truckers have no conflict with the port as such. What they are protesting against is lawmakers’ ridiculous demand that they change the way they work by becoming “employees” rather than maintaining their independence.

In their job action, they successfully held the cargo flow captive for days as they called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to amend AB 5, the labor law that would require about 70,000 truckers and other independent contractors to register as employees.

They don’t want to do so. Why can’t the governor and the Sacramento lawmakers who continue to pretend to believe in the fiction that the law they have passed is good for workers rather than merely good for powerful unions understand the damage that AB 5 has done to Californians?

As Eliyahu Kamisher of the Mercury News in San Jose reported, 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 healthcare, vacation time and proper wages.

But the truckers themselves like their independence. If they don’t want to operate under the strictures of the misguided law, any more than independent musicians and journalists do, why should they be forced to?

The Oakland blockade ended without any concessions from key lawmakers and Newsom doubled down on his commitment to enforcing AB 5.

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But the Port of Oakland has promised to act as a liaison between the independent trucking community and Sacramento. “The port will also 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,” the Mercury News reported.

Southern California independent truckers working at the ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles have the same objections as their Northern California peers.

“We are responsible citizens and it’s our responsibility to not break the supply chain,” Navdeep Gill, who owns a small company serving the Oakland port, 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 governor and members of the California Legislature need to hear these pleas for relief from AB 5, which, despite some — many, in fact — changes since its passage, still remains an impediment for so many Californians who simply want to work independently, in the ways that they have for decades. Stop the pretense, Sacramento, that this legislation is in any way good for real California workers as opposed to the management of the state’s big unions.