Independent truck drivers hold up signs with Anti-AB5 messaging. These drivers say the labor law meant to grant more worker protections to gig workers like them would do more harm than good. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Today, dozens of independent truck drivers showed up at the port of Oakland to continue blocking multiple terminal gates in protest of AB5, a state labor law they say would harm them by removing their independent owner-operator status. 

Today’s protest is a continuation of yesterday’s action, in which over a hundred drivers impeded shipments from getting in and out of the port. The drivers say they expect to continue protesting until Thursday. 

Cesar Gutierrez, an independent truck driver who lives in Vallejo, has worked in this industry for over two decades and believes AB5 restricts his rights as a small business owner. “I like the freedom. I want to decide what I want to do and who I drive for,” Gutierrez said. “I prefer to be out of work than them taking the freedom of all owner-operators.” 

AB5, widely known as the “gig worker” law, was introduced in 2019 to make large gig-centric corporations, like rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, provide their contractors with more worker protections. The law does this by reclassifying some contractors as employees of companies and applies to independent truck drivers as well. Governor Newsom signed the legislation into law in January of 2020, though a wave of lawsuits impeded its implementation. On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing a case from the California Trucking Association asking to repeal AB5 altogether. For now, as CalMatters recently reported, “it remains unclear when and how the state will start enforcing AB5.”

Today’s action, in part a reaction to that Supreme Court decision, caused a large backup of truckers—most of whom are employees of trucking companies—from delivering their shipments. The Oaklandside spoke with Victor Brooks, a business agent for San Francisco-based longshore workers union IWLU Local 10, about how Oakland-based longshore workers feel about the blockage. “They have a picket line, we don’t cross it,” Brooks said. 

A line of trucks wait to get into the port while port workers park on the side of the road, waiting to get in as well. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Guillermo, a truck driver who delivers cargo every day to the port, told The Oaklandside that it’s been slower than usual. “So far I’ve been waiting for 30 minutes, but yesterday we waited all day so I guess we’ll have to see,” Guillermo said. When asked whether it’s better to work for a company rather than be an owner-operator, he said that each has its pros and cons. “The good thing is that we get benefits, and I don’t have to worry about paying the cost of my truck.” Comparatively, studies show that truck drivers who do contract work tend to earn low incomes and bear the brunt of compliance expenses to keep their vehicles up to code. 

Other organizations representing the interests of workers are pleased that AB5 can now be implemented. Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, told Transport Topics this week that “the system is abusive and guilty of wage theft.” 

Still, several independent truck drivers who were demonstrating today said they would rather change professions or move out of the state to continue their business rather than abide by AB5. 

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.